Category Archives: History

Jim Larkin, Labor Organizer

James Larkin popularly known as Big Jim was an Irish trade unionist. He came up with the popular quote “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”. Larkin went to school for only a three years before he started doing manual jobs. He then went to work at the docks in Liverpool’s port. A socialist from a young age Larkin joined the largest union in the port National Union of Dock Laborers. He left his work as a foreman in 1905 and became a full time trade unionist. His strike methods were too harsh for the NUDL and they transferred him to Ireland in 1907. In Ireland Larkin settled in Dublin where he founded the infamous the ITGWU. The ITGWU was one of the first labor unions to unite skilled and unskilled laborers under one labor union. In 1908 Larkin outlined the goals of the ITGWU: legal eight hour work day, pension for workers aged 60 years, work for all the unemployed laborers, adult suffrage, arbitration courts for labor disputes and nationalization of all transportation means including railways and canals.

In 1912, James Larkin realized that workers would not be able to achieve their rights without a politically party that would represent their rights. He partnered with James Connolly to form the Irish Labor Party. The ILU led a series of large strikers culminating in the 1913 Dublin lockout. For seven months and two weeks over 100,000 Irish workers went on strike. By the end of the strike all workers, both skilled and unskilled, had obtained the right to fair employment. Constance Markievicz, the first woman elected to the House of Commons, described Larkin as a force of nature during negotiations in the 1913 trade dispute.

James Larkin always used nonviolent methods in his strikes. He knew that trade unions would never be successful if they destroyed the businesses where the members worked. Even when businesses used strike breakers he avoided violence at all costs. Larkin usually effected strikes using boycotts of goods and sympathetic strikes. Larkin was also active in the US, he did several lecture tours in the US to raise money for the Irish fight against the British. When James Connolly died in 1918 Larkin went to New York and formed the James Connolly Socialist Club.