James Larkin was born in 1876 in Liverpool, England. He was the son of an Irish trade union leader and a social activist, so doing things for the good of the people came naturally to him. He grew up poor with little education; however this would not hamper him from working full-time as a union organizer by 1905.
In 1907, Larkin moved to Belfast, Ireland. Here he founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union as well as the Irish Labour Party. Eventually, Jim Larkin would create the Workers’ Union of Ireland. Read more: Jim Larkin – Biography
At the age of seven, Jim would work afternoons and evenings to help bring in money for the family; he attended school only in the morning. As one of seven children, Larkin was like many other poor children in Liverpool who lived much the same way.
Larkin’s father died when Jim was only fourteen, and the firm at which his father worked took Larkin on as an apprentice; however, he was let go after only two years. Jim Larkin also worked as a sailor and docker. He worked his way up to the position of foreman.
In 1903, Larkin participated in a labor strike; an oddity as Larkin was one of few foremen who would do so. He lost his job after being elected to a strike committee, but was recruited by the National Union of Dock Laborers as an organizer. He eventually traveled throughout Ireland and Scotland recruiting members for the union.
Jim Larkin was able to work across industries to bring not only dock workers but also miners into labor strikes. He also persuaded Protestant and Catholic to work together for better working conditions. He had great success in the National Union of Dock Laborers, but was dismissed after some controversial actions.
This did not stop Larkin from working for the good of workers, however. He would found the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, which is still in existence today as the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union.
In 1913, Larkin was a notable figure in the Dublin Lockout. Larkin was instrumental in procuring better wages for unskilled workers in a variety of industries.
Larkin would eventually leave Ireland for America to the disappointment of many of his countrymen. Larkin joined the Socialist Party of America and became involved in organizing unions in America. In 1923, Larkin returned to Ireland. He continued to work as an activist until his death in 1947.
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