On January 21, 1876, James Larkin was born to a Irish parents in Liverpool, England. The boy, who would become known as Jim Larkin or “Big Jim” Larkin, went on to be central to the Irish labor movement.
Larkin’s early years were spent in poverty in Liverpool and, later, the small Irish village of Burren in the County Down. He received little formal education and had to go to work while still young. By his twenties, he had regular employment on the docks. These early experiences helped to shape his ideals.
In 1905, Larkin rose to prominence during a dock strike. Shortly after, he became a full-time organizer for the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL). It was in this role that he became the first to organize the unskilled laborers of Belfast. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/big-jim-larkin-hero-and-wrecker/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/profiles/po08.shtml
Not long after a perceived betrayal by NUDL leaders during a lockout, Larkin was sent to Dublin to mobilize port workers. There he chose to break free and establish his own union, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). Read more: Jim Larkin | Biography
ITGWU quickly grew and became the largest in Ireland within just a few years. In 1911, Larkin established a weekly labor newspaper. The following year, he acquired Liberty Hall as the union’s headquarters.
During this same time, ITGWU had successfully organized almost all unskilled labor in Dublin. One of the exceptions was the Dublin United Tramway Company (DUTC). Confrontation with DUTC would lead to the 1913 Dublin Lockout and a sharp defeat for Larkin’s union.
After this devastation, Jim Larkin traveled to the United States to raise money to rebuild the union. His political activities led to his imprisonment for nearly three years. In 1923, he was deported back to Ireland where he was warmly welcomed.
Despite his efforts, however, he never again fully regained his standing within the labor movement. Instead, he eventually found himself pushed out of the very union that he had founded.
On January 30, 1947, Larkin died in Dublin. However, his legend lives on. He was commemorated with a statue in Dublin, and he has been mentioned in several poems and songs.