Between his birth on January 28, 1874 in Liverpool, England, and his death on January 30, 1947 in Dublin, Ireland, James Larkin lived a life dedicated to improving working conditions. He fought for temporary work for all unemployed, eight hour workdays, pensions at age 60, compulsory arbitration courts and the nationalization of all transit.
Having joined the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL), Larkin became a trade unionizer in 1905. NUDL sent him to Dublin. There, Larkin formed the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, the basis of the modern Irish labor movement. Ten percent of workers were unionized. They believed the British-based unions had no regard for them.
The goal of the ITGWU was to establish an Irish-based union that included all industrial workers, both skilled and unskilled. Irish to the core, James Larkin aligned the union accordingly. Later, along with James Connolly, he created the Irish Labour Party. Read more: The Definite Biography of Big Jim Larkin
Larkin utilized a method of nonviolent strikes. In 1913, he led the Dublin Lockout, a strike that involved over 100,000 workers for almost eight months. The right to fair employment was established with this strike.
In Dublin, Larkin staged an antiwar demonstration when war broke out in 1924. Charging Irishmen to resist involvement, he wrote in the Irish Worker, “Stop at home. Arm for Ireland. Fight for Ireland and no other land.”’
Larkin left for the United States in October 1914. His aim was to both start a career as a public speaker and raise money to help fight against the British. He joined the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Larkin was convicted of communism and “criminal anarchy” and sent to Sing Sing in 1920. He was deported to Ireland in 1923.
Through the 1930s and 1940s, Larkin’s actions became moderate, concentrating on the WUI and angling for a seat on Dublin Corporation and solidifying his standing in the Irish Labour Party.
Throughout his life, James Larkin fought for what he believed was right for the Irish and for all workers, ultimately, by establishing the basis of the modern union.