Jim Larkin stood for the common working man, demanding fair wages and humane working conditions. He is a celebrated folk hero, venerated in Ireland for his determination to see the improvement of the working conditions of Ireland come to fruition.
Jim Larkin was born on January 21st, 1876 in the slums of Liverpool England. With very little in the way of formal education, Larkin began working at an early age, taking a variety of odd jobs to supplement his family’s income. Larkin found work at the Liverpool docks where he eventually became a foreman. It was here that he began noting the poor conditions that dock workers were expected to work and live in.
Jim Larkin joined the National Union of Dock Laborers (NUDL) and became a union organizer in 1905. After staging sympathy strikes that included sympathizers having no direct grievances, Larkin’s union superiors sent him to Dublin in 1907 out of concern for the union image. There, Larkin recruited at least 400 new members in the first three weeks after his arrival. This resulted in dock employers firing NUDL members, an action that resulted in a drawn-out dispute.
Larkin continued his work in Ireland, traveling to the larger cities to organize workers. In 1908, Larkin formally implemented an INUDL program that provided Irish workers with better working conditions including unemployment provisions, pensions, transport, and the introduction of eight hour work days.
Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in 1909. It was his goal to establish a union that would benefit both skilled and unskilled workers in Ireland. The ITGWU quickly grew, with an estimated 15,000 members from various industries.
In 1912, Jim Larkin and James Connolly formed the Irish Labor Party. Following this, Larkin led the 1913 Lockout, with over 100,000 Irish workers striking due to poor working conditions as well as their right to a union. This strike was of extreme significance in Irish history as a turning point for common laborers. In the end however, the lack of financial support as well as hunger forced workers to return to their employers, who required that they sign employee pledges. Only a portion of the workers got their jobs back, others enlisted in the military in order to support themselves and their families. Larkin traveled to the United States in the hopes of raising funds so that he could continue his work.
While in the United States, Jim Larkin publicly opposed the United State’s involvement in World War One, which resulted in an anarchy conviction for which he spent three years in prison in 1920. After serving his sentence, Larkin was deported back to Ireland in 1923.
After returning to Ireland, Jim Larkin continued to work to help Irish laborers receive fair treatment in the workplace. He passed away in 1947 at the age of 71. A bronze statue in his honor was erected in 1979 and includes an inscription of one of his most memorable quotes: “The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!