James Larkin, aka ‘Big Jim’ was a rebel, a socialist, and a hero to the Irish working class. You may remember him as the man who coined the term ‘A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”; but he didn’t just talk the talk.
He established a multitude of unions and movements for blue collar workers and raised hell throughout the early-to-mid 20th Century and was even incarcerated in the US. Larkins will forever be known for the changes he has made for Irish working conditions.
Larkin was born on January 21, 1876. He grew up in the slums of Liverpool, England with very little education. This was because his family was piss-poor, so he had to do a variety of manual labor worker jobs to bring in money.
That path lead him to be a dock worker in Liverpool where he joined the National Union of Dock Labourers(NUDL). He was moved to Dublin in 1907 and from there he founded his own labor union, the Irish Transportation and General Workers Union(ITGWU). The ITGWU was a major factor in the 1913 Dublin lockout and the ‘Great Labor Unrest”. This was the highlight of big Jim’s career. Read more: Jim Larkin | Wikipedia and Jim Larkin – Biography
In 1914 James moved to the US to continue his efforts after the lockout. He was in America during Easter Rising where his colleague and rival, James Conolly, was killed. In 1920 Larkin was convicted of ‘criminal anarchy’ and communism for his speeches.
He was pardoned after three years but was deported back to Ireland. From there, Larkin’s ego started to get the better of him. This led to his eventual expulsion from the ITGWU. His marriage also fell apart around this time and he was forced to live with his sister.
Things started to turn around a bit when he established the Workers Union of Ireland. People from the ITGWU started to migrate to WUI because of the wage attacks going on in Ireland at the time.
Larkin continued to work for labor rights until he fell through the floor of a WUI building. He drew his last breath on January 30, 1947, at Meath Hospital. His contributions to the blue collar workers established Big Jim as a legend. He is immortalized in Irish history.