History

Jim Larkin: The legendary activist who rose from abject poverty to lead the biggest trade union in Ireland

Jim Larkin was one of the greatest activists in Ireland whose legacy has lived to see the New Millennium. He was born into Irish parents who lived in the slums of Toxteth, Liverpool.

Jim Larkin got little education since his parents could not afford to take him to school. He experienced numerous challenges while growing up, which forced him to start doing menial jobs at a young age. Read more: James Larkin | Biography and James Larkin – Wikipedia

He was employed as a casual laborer by the Liverpool dock and thereafter promoted to become the foreman of the dock. His colleagues liked him because he was straightforward and believed in treating everyone equally. Those who knew him to say that Jim Larkin did not take bribes to give men work. Besides, he did not smoke nor take alcohol.

He became popular among the dock workers when he led several strikes in 1907 in Belfast and Dublin. Jim Larkin was dissatisfied with the way employers treated their employees. During his time, Dublin workers were lowly paid and they could hardly manage to take care of their families.

His devotion towards helping other workers fight for their employment rights earned him a position in the National Union of Dock Laborers. He, however, fell out with the union officials when he organized strikes against their will. He was sent to Dublin where he founded ITGWU.

With the new trade union, Jim Larkin wanted to bring all the industrial workers under one roof where they could bargain for their rights as one unit.

He managed to unite the Catholics and Protestants, who at the time could not eat from the same table. In 1913, Jim Larkin organized the Dublin Lockout, a standoff between the Dublin workers and employers that lasted for nearly eight months.

Many of his colleagues referred to him as the “Big Jim”. He stood well over six feet tall with a huge body. Jim Larkin was an excellent orator and his meetings attracted thousands of people who came to listen to him.

Jim Larkin was a thorn in the flesh of authority everywhere he went to. After the failed Dublin lockout, he went to the U.S where he was indicted for attempting to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to serve five years in jail but he was later pardoned and deported to Ireland.