“A fair day’s work for an honest day’s pay” is a famous quote by James Larkin that depicts what he fought for in his lifetime. He was dedicated to fighting for better conditions for all workers. Popularly known as Big Jim, James remains an icon in trade unionism that history ever produced.
In January 1876, an Irish couple living in a shantytown in Liverpool, England, welcomed a baby boy, James Larkin. At the time, they didn’t know that the boy would grow to write history despite his poor background. His parents were unable to give him the education needed to secure a good job.
He ended up taking menial jobs for survival. His journey as a trade unionist started when he joined the Liverpool docks as a foreman. He became a socialite and rallied his efforts in fighting for better working conditions for the workers.
James Larkin eventually became a member of the National Union of Dock Laborers (NUDL), which paved the way for him to become a trade union organizer in 1905 where he became fully immersed in the fight. Read more: Jim Larkin | Wikipedia and James Larkin | Biography
The Fight Continues
From the beginning, James Larkin fought for the rights of all workers regardless of their skills. Some people in the union did not agree with his way of conducting strikes, which saw him move to Dublin in 1907.
He didn’t stop with the move as he went on to start the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU). He hit the ground running by drawing up the political program for the union, which was ready by December 1908. The union fought for among others, employment for the unemployed, pension for people over 60, and a working day of 8 hours.
Four years later, James Larkin joined hands with James Connolly to form the Irish Labor Party. The party made history by leading impactful strikes that saw many workers access employment with fair rights. Such strikes include the Dublin Lockout that took place in 1993.
James Larkin had many enemies in the press who did not agree with his ideologies. He, however, attracted admiration from many who saw the importance of his advocacy. Many people, including Constance Markievicz, William Butler Yeats, and Patrick Pearse supported him for conducting strikes without involving violence.
James Larkin traveled to the United States in 1914 where he continued with his work. He became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Socialist Party of America. He would later be convicted and deported back to Ireland in 1924. Before his demise in 1947, James started the Workers’ Union of Ireland.