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June 26, 2018

James “Big Jim” Larkin—trade union leader and socialist

James Larkin or “Big Jim” was a prominent trade union leader, socialist, and major supporter of the “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” movement. Experiencing the struggles of oppressed blue collar workers first hand, he became a big influence in changing the way corporations value employees.

Life and career

James Larkin was born in Liverpool, England in 1876 to Irish immigrant parents. His family soon relocated to Ireland where he grew up in Burren; in poverty and in a rather small cottage. He received little education and due to life circumstances was forced to work since the age of seven, often heading to work right after school. Read more: James Larkin – Wikipedia and James Larkin | Ireland Calling

When Larkin was only 14 years old his father passed away and the company where his father was employed took him in as an apprentice. After a two year stint with the company, he was dismissed and became a sailor. Learn more about Jim Larkin: and

Eventually, James Larking found a job as a docker and held to the position until he was promoted to foreman in 1903; it was during the same year when he got married to his girlfriend Elizabeth Brown.

10 years prior, James had grown an interest for socialism and joined the Independent Labour Party in 1893. By 1905 his experience as a blue collar worker and foreman had made him see how undervalued the working class was and it marked the beginning of a new life for him.

In 1905 he took part in a strike against the Liverpool Docks and lost his job due to it. Although he lost his foreman position in the docks, his future became brighter when he found out he had impressed the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL).

He led numerous successful strikes during the next following years, and although the NUDL later expulsed him, this position had changed his life forever. He spent the rest of his life successfully organizing workers in different countries and for several industries.

Later days

For the upcoming years almost until his death in 1947, James Larkin continued to organize strikes which were at times successful and disastrous simultaneously.

He ended up in prison twice, once for diverting funds at NUDL and another time being accused of criminal anarchy. He was pardoned for both convictions after serving only a percentage of the original sentences.

To this day, “Big Jim” is seen as a heroic figure and his efforts are particularly praised in Dublin, where a statue of him stands tall on O’Connell Street.