James Larkin: A Man For The People

James Larkin, socialist, union organizer, husband, father, international speaker, convict, and champion of the working man; lived a life of passion and intensity. Born in the slums of Liverpool England on January 28, 1874 to Irish parents, he grew up poor and learned to work early on.

He worked his way up to foreman on the Liverpool docks where he became passionate about empowering laborers and joined the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL). He became involved in union affairs and by 1905 was a full time union organizer.

In 1907, he was sent to Dublin with the goal of organizing all labor into one union, combining both skilled and unskilled laborers. He founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union which never accomplished it’s goal of incorporating all Irish laborers into one union, but was still, an important union in it’s day.

Jim Larkin was opposed to World War I and led anti-war demonstrations in Ireland. He decided to go to America on a speaking tour and to attempt to raise money to fight the British. In 1920, he was convicted in an American court of criminal anarchy and communism.

 

He spent three years in prison before he was pardoned and deported back to Ireland. He had married Elizabeth Brown in 1903 and fathered four sons before he left for the United States. He marriage however, was not successful and the couple separated after his return from America.

Touchy and difficult to work with, Larkin found that in his absence the unions had gone on without him and he had difficulty regaining his previous place of status and respect in the trade unions. It was a long and humbling process but Larkin never gave up working for the unions and the welfare of the working man.

In 1943 he was elected as an Irish Member of Parliament for the Labour party for North East Dublin. In the twenty years between his return to Ireland and his death in 1947, Larkin continued to grow as a person, becoming less egotistical and abrasive, but he never stopped working for the working man.

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