He rose out of the depths of poverty and obscurity to become one of the most important labor leaders in Europe, and perhaps the world. He is remembered today as “Big Jim” in his native Ireland where he retains folk hero status. But Jim Larkin’s road to fame – and infamy – was a long and tumultuous one, and never without controversy.
Jim Larkin was born in 1876 in Liverpool, England, to James and Mary Ann (McNulty) Larkin. His parents lived in the slums of Liverpool and eked out a meager living after immigrating there from Ireland.
To help make ends meet, young Jim Larkin began working at a job while still in grammar school. What little education he received ended at age 14 when his father died. His schooling was over and it seemed a long life of hard labor for low pay was his fate. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/jim-larkin-released-from-prison
By his early 20s, Jim Larkin worked his way up to the position of foreman at the docks, and it was there that he first began to organize his fellow dock workers in labor strikes. Larkin was strongly influenced by the emerging Marxist and socialist movements sweeping across Eastern Europe in the early 20th Century.
Larkin joined the National Union of Dock Labourers and quickly rose through its hierarchy to become a major player. Although minimally educated, Jim Larkin had a natural gift for public speaking. His delivery was passionate and powerfully persuasive. He articulated the plight of the downtrodden working class in a way that engendered hope and spurred men to action.
Larkin eventually founded a new organization, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, which was a major player in one of the most significant labor events in Irish history. It is known as the 1913 Dublin Lockout which saw some 20,000 workers collectively strike against 300 employers.
The Dublin Lockout was a contentious, often violent series of events that shook the social fabric of Ireland to its core. It involved not just workers and business owners, but all levels of society, including the government, the Catholic Church, the police and the common man.
The Dublin Lockout was eventually smashed by the wealthy elite – however, the lasting and historic effect were new labor laws that eventually brought more pay, civil rights and power to the average working man and woman.