Big Jim Larkin and the Irish Labour Movement

James Larkin (Gaelic – Séamas Ó Lorcáin, January 21, 1876 to January 30, 1947), also known as “Big Jim Larkin,” was a social activist and a leader in the Irish trade union movement at the turn of the 20th century. Read more: Jim Larkin | Wikipedia and Jim Larkin | Biography

Larkin was the son of Irish emigrants, growing up in the slums of Liverpool, England in his early years. He did attend school in the morning, but was forced to work in the afternoons to help support his family.

When Jim’s father died when he was fourteen, he took a job as an apprentice in the firm where his father had worked, but he was let go after two years. Larkin went on to work as a dock hand and a sailor. By 1893, Larkin had become interested in socialism and joined the Independent Labour Party.

Through his hard work, Jim Larkin was soon named a foreman on the Liverpool docks. In 1905 he was one of only a few foremen to take part in a strike.

He impressed the leaders of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) and was appointed as a coordinator for the union. Big Jim Larkin was a champion of his fellow workers, striving to get better working conditions for them.

Larkin’s aggressive strike tactics did not sit well with the NUDL, so in 1907 they relocated him to Dublin. In Dublin, Big Jim Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU).

Big Jim’s driving aim was to have all Irish industrial workers belong to one union that would fight for the rights of all of its members.

In 1912, Jim Larkin and James Connolly founded the Irish Labour Party to further the fight for Irish workers’ rights. The Irish Labour Party organized a number of strikes, the most famous of which was the Dublin Lockout in 1913 in which 100,000 workers took part.

Many think the poem by W.B. Yeats “September 1913” was a commentary on the Dublin Lockout. Big Jim Larkin advocated peaceful strikes and boycotts of goods as a best way to express the will of the workers.

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