James Larkin will not only be remembered in his home of Ireland, but also internationally as one of the most important social activist of the first part of the Twentieth Century.
Better known as “Big Jim,” Larkin was a labor leader and political provocateur between the two world wars in Ireland. He partook in the creation of the modern Ireland state, and left a mark on the country.
While one of Ireland’s most beloved sons, he was actually born in Liverpool, England in 1876 to Irish immigrant parents. He grew up in Liverpool’s slums where he started working before the age of ten.
At 14, his father died and he went to work at his father’s firm. He spent most of his adolescence working as a sailor or on the docks of Liverpool.
Through his twenties, Jim Larkin became more interested in politics and he became a member of the Independent Labour Party. He partook in the Liverpool dock strike in 1905, Larkin rose through the ranks of National Union of Dock Labourers and was sent to Scotland in 1906 as an organizer. Subsequently, he returned to his parent’s homeland, arriving in Belfast in 1907.
Larkin became a leading labor figure, and hence, a figure in Irish independence. He founded both the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, and the newspaper “The Irish Worker,” the first socialist newspaper in Ireland. He is most remembered for his role in the Dublin Lockout in 1913. Read more: Jim Larkin | Wikipedia
The work stoppage was the most important labor action up to that time and established principles of workers’ solidarity. Larkin’s used his newspaper to condemn poverty and called for the working class to stand up for themselves.
With the outbreak World War I, Larkin sailed for the United States as a fundraiser to combat the British. He became embroiled in American politics and the rise of the communist movement in that period.
He was convicted and pardoned for anarchy and communism in 1920. He returned to Dublin where he organized the Workers’ Union of Ireland and turned his interest to the world communist movement.
He attended the Comintern congress in Moscow in 1926 and was elected to its international executive committee. However, over the next decade, Larkin became disillusioned with Russia. He ran for office several times but lost.
Jim Larkin continued to be active in Irish war-time labor politics until his death in 1947.