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James Larkin, commonly referred to as Big Jim, was a renowned trade unionist. He was an Irish activist and labor organizer, credited with the formation of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU).

He was born within the slums existing in Liverpool, England on 21st January 1876. Despite having little education, he went on to form the ITGWU, which later became the largest union within the region. Here is a short brief highlighting his history and achievements.

Early Days

Larkin grew up in the slums doing a number of manual jobs before becoming a foreman at the docks in Liverpool. James Larkin was a socialist from the beginning and had a deep commitment to ensuring that workers got better and fair conditions in their workplaces. He became a member of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) before he took up trade union organizing as a full-time job in 1905.

Militant Strike Techniques

Jim Larkin adopted some militant strike techniques much to the chagrin of the NUDL. This forced NUDL to cause his transfer to Dublin sometimes in 1907. It is while in Dublin that he established the ITGWU. He established ITGWU with the sole aim of ensuring that all industrial workers of an Irish origin belonged to a single union that would work hard towards safeguarding their welfare. Later on in the month of December 1908, James outlined ITGWU’s political programme.

It entailed a number of points like working legally for eight hours, the provision of jobs to the jobless and pensions to be paid to all workers who had attained the age of 60 years. He also advocated for adult suffrage, arbitration courts and the nationalization of railways, canals and all other means of transport. Read more: Phoenix New Time and Village Voice Media | Wikipedia

Formation and Action of the Irish Labor Party

Mr. Larkin together with James Connolly founded the Irish Labor Party in 1912, which was responsible for leading a number of strikes. The most memorable strike was the one dubbed the Dublin Lockout that took place in 1913. By then, the unskilled workers present in Dublin had very few rights. The strike involved over 100,000 workers who participated in a strike action that lasted for more than seven months. This strike yielded fruits as the workers managed to get their right to accessing fair employment.

Larkin favored boycotting of goods and sympathetic strikes. Violence was never in his agenda as he knew that he could not build a mammoth trade union by destroying the very firms that his members used to work in. The press in Ireland was against him but he had managed to win a lot of supporters who included William Butler Yeats, Patrick Pearse and Constance Markievicz. He also organized huge anti-war demonstrations when World War I erupted warning Irishmen from getting involved in it.

America

James Larkin went into the US in 1914 and became part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Socialist Party of America. In 1920, Larkin was jailed for communism and criminal anarchy. He was pardoned after three years and deported back to Ireland.

He formed the Workers’ Union of Ireland, which was recognized by the Communist International (1924). He fought for the welfare of workers up until 30th January 1947, when he died.

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