Born in Liverpool, England in 1874, James Larkin was in his 30s by the time he began to make a mark as a union leader and activist after finding a working home on the docks of his native city of Liverpool. Larkin often clashed with those in charge of the National Dock Laborers Union because of his belief in non-violent protest and keeping the business of the docks open during strike action which would lead to Larkin’s expulsion to Ireland in 1907; after arriving on the docks of Belfast and Dublin, Larkin became frustrated at the lack of support from England and set about establishing his own union.
The creation of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and later the Irish Labour Party which would signal the launch of a manifesto designed to create worker’s rights as a standard across Ireland. Among the famous sayings attributed to James Larkin is engraved on his statue in the Irish capital of Dublin and reads, “A fair day’s work, for a fair day”s pay.”
Unlike many of his fellow trade union leaders, Larkin did not believe in looking after the needs of a single group of workers and hoped to include all skilled and unskilled Irish people in his ITGWU. As a founder of the Irish Labour Party, Larkin was also instrumental in driving the propaganda mechanisms pushing for Irish independence from England through “The Worker” newspaper he established despite having little formal education during his childhood in Derry, Ireland.
James Larkin was also a committed Catholic and social reformer who was a major force in the temperance and religious movements who was willing to fight for the future of all people at all times. A fearsome speaker who gained the nickname, “Big Jim” for his size and rampaging speech-giving, Larkin was committed to using non-violence towards strikebreakers as he did not wish to destroy the companies his union members worked for leaving many without jobs; this commitment to non-violence showed itself during the eight-month Dublin Lockout of 1913 which saw Larkin refuse to bring down the companies employing the more than 100,000 workers striking.
After an unsuccessful move to the U.S., James Larkin headed back to Ireland in 1920 and established the Worker’s Union of Ireland and continued to fight for the Irish Republic with socialist ideals. Larkin was barred from becoming a member of the Irish Labour Party he had earlier founded until 1945 because of his powerful beliefs which was just two years before his death in 1947 and funeral attended by more than 200,000 mourners.