Jim Larkin: The legendary Activist Who crippled British Labour Policy and Revolutionised Trade Unionism

Jim Larkin, commonly known as Big Jim, was a famous trade unionist. He was conceived by Irish parents in January 1876 in the slum area of Liverpool, England. Jim was not well educated. Thus he did manual jobs to provide for himself. Jim was hired as the foreman at the Liverpool docks. He became a socialist and was devoted to ensuring the workers get fair job conditions.

Jim joined NUDL (National Union of Dock Labourers) and ultimately became a permanent trade union organizer in 1905. The organization were not pleased with his strike action techniques hence they transferred him to Dublin in 1907.

While in Dublin, Jim launched the ITGWU (Irish Transport and General Workers Union). Larkin wanted all Irish industrial workers, both skilled and unskilled to belong to one union that would champion for their welfare.

Jim Larkin released the political programme outline of the ITGWU in December 1908. It included the provision of work for the unemployed people, legal eight working hours a day, provision of pension for all employees above 60 years, adult suffrage, compulsory arbitration courts, as well as the nationalisation of railways, canals, and other means of transport. Jim wanted Ireland to serve the Irish people.

In 1912, Jim Larkin partnered with James Connolly, and they founded the Irish Labour Party, which led a series of strikes including the prominent 1913 Dublin Lockout. Jim knew that unskilled workers in Dublin had very few rights and was championing for their right to fair employment.

Over 100,000 workers boycott work for more than seven months and eventually they won. Constance Markievicz was inspired by Larkin’s speech during the industrial strike in 1913. Markievicz was amazed by the great power that emanated from Larkin’s speech. He had never met a man like Jim before.

Larkin’s methods were not violent; rather, they were sympathetic strikes that involved boycotting of goods. It was impractical for him to establish a mass trade union by demolishing the companies where his members worked. Despite the opposition faced from the Irish Press, Larkin and his union had numerous supporters including Constance Markievicz, Patrick Pearse, and William B. Yeats.

William’s poem that was released in September 1913 is perceived by many as a commentary on the Dublin Lockout.

Larkin led an anti-war demonstration in Dublin after the breakout of the First World War and urged the Irish people not to be involved in the war. He advised his people to fight for Ireland and not any other land.

In 1914, Jim departed for the United States of America, with the aim of raising funds to fight the British. While there, he joined Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Socialist Party of America. The Easter Rising of 1916 took place in Ireland while Jim was in America.

His close friend James Connolly passed away in the Easter Rising. In 1918, Jim established James Connolly Socialist Club in New York, in honour of his friend.

Jim was deported back to Ireland in 1920. He continued to champion for the rights of workers until his demise in 1947.

Read more: Jim Larkin – Biography

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