James (Jim) Larkin was born in Liverpool, England on January 21, 1876, the son of two Irish immigrants from County Armagh. His family had little money. The seven year old boy went to work in the afternoon, after attending school in the morning. When his father died he was 14. At that time he began working full time as an apprentice where his father had worked. After two years, at the age of 16, he was let go. Within a couple of years he had started working on the docks of Liverpool. By the age of 27 he was a dock foreman.
It was from this life that James Larkin began to align himself with the idea of socialism. He felt for the underprivileged and downtrodden. Larkin was quoted as saying “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” as he believed workers were not treated with fairness.
Larkin joined the NUDL (the National Union of Dock Labourers). In 1905 he committed to being a union organizer. He was the first person to try and organize the dock workers in Belfast, Ireland, having been sent there in 1907 by the NUDL. He was able to unionize the workers, but the employers refused to pay the wage demanded. Larkin called for a strike which lasted from May through November, ending only when a settlement was reached by the NUDL leaders.
James Larkin traveled to Dublin at the behest of the NUDL to rally the dock workers in that city to unionize. He felt that the leaders had gone behind his back in settling the strike in Belfast. Wanting to distance himself from British unions, he began the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in December 1908. It took only three years for the ITGWU to become the largest union in Ireland. Larkin’s union was intended to combine all skilled and unskilled industrial workers in Ireland. There were a few holdouts. These included the Dublin United Tramway Company and Guinness Brewery. The DUTC continued to resist fair practices for their employees. Subsequently a strike, referred to as the Dublin Lockout, began in 1913 and lasted almost eight months. When all was said and done, the Dublin Lockout resulted in workers obtaining the right to fair employment.
James Larkin died in Dublin on January 30, 1947 having lived a life dedicated to socialism and fighting for the underdog.