James Larkin: Champion of the Irish Worker

The Early Days

James Larkin was no stranger to struggle even in childhood. Born to a poor family in England in 1976, he was thrown into the labor force at the young age of 11.

As an apprentice for his father’s Engineering company, Larkin worked hard to help his family pay the bills. Larkin later went through a myriad of labor-based jobs before leaving the country for a year. When he returned, he was unable to find work, along with many other individuals in England at the time.

An Outbreak of Protests

With rising issues in the workplace, such as unemployment, working conditions, hours, and pay, Larkin became a prominent figure in many protests to combat these unfair practices. After finding work as a dock laborer, Larkin continued his fight for fair treatment of employees and joined the National Union of Dock Laborers (NUDL).

After only two years in the union full-time, the NUDL did not agree with his methods and sent him away to Belfast, Ireland. There he organized a strike that led to a nasty clash between employers and the employees. The NUDL did not want the dispute to continue and settled with the bosses without consulting Larkin. The NUDL had him relocate once again to Dublin following the dispute.

The ITGWU

Once in Dublin, Jim Larkin furthered his efforts by founding the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITWGU). Their cause consisted of battling employers for pensions for long-time workers, an eight-hour workday, and more.

Larkin and his union orchestrated a series of protests and strikes over the years. Larkin even started a wildly popular newspaper known as the ‘Irish Worker and Peoples’ Advocate’, which brought many of the issues that workers were facing into the public view.

The Great Lockout

Over 300 Irish employers got together in 1913 to make a game plan that would prevent the unionization of the Irish workers. Large companies threatened to fire anyone who joined the ITGWU and subsequently many people were let go. In an effort to change this, Larkin led over 100,000 people, 20,000 of which were unskilled workers, through a series of strikes against these companies. Fights broke out where officers and workers were injured.

Two people were even killed in one of these skirmishes. Once the workers ran out of money and resources, they admitted defeat and returned to work. Though unsuccessful, Larkin paved the way for future unions’ success and served as an inspiration for workers everywhere.

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