James (Jim) Larkin was one of the giants of the early worker’s rights movement. He grew up impoverished and because his family needed him to work he received the barest of formal education.
It was on January 21, 1876, that he was born and after working a variety of low-skilled jobs he ended up with a position on the docks of London loading and unloading cargo. He became a member of the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) at an early age and when he was 29 years old he began working as a trade union organizer on a full-time basis.
Jim Larkin often chose to implement militant strike methods against employers. This alarmed the leadership of NUDL and their solution was to ship him off to Dublin so he couldn’t cause them any more trouble.
Once there, at 31 years old, he established a trade union called the Irish Transport and Workers Union (ITGWU). His goal was to unite all workers, skilled and unskilled alike, into one powerful union to force all types of employers to treat their employees fairly.
Over the course of the next five years Jim Larkin called for a series of strikes for the better treatment of workers, such as 8-hour days and having pension plans among other sought-out issues. He would have members of his union boycott goods and join other workers strikes in order to achieve their goals.
Jim Larkin was very much against Ireland joining the World War and he held very well attended anti-war protests in Dublin. The next year he decided to go to America where he would do a lecture tour and raise money to raise money so that Ireland could fight the British.
He continued to rile people up for workers rights in the US and after being in the country for six years he was arrested, tried, and convicted of being a communist and engaging in criminal anarchy. At the behest of J. Edgar Hoover he was pardoned after serving three years time and was deported back to Ireland.
Once back in Dublin he started another union, Workers Union of Ireland (WUI). He continued to engage in labor organizing activities for the rest of his life in Dublin. He died on January 30, 1947, after he had been in the hospital for over a month. His cause of death was injuries that he had suffered in a fall at his union hall.
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