James Larkin is renowned for founding the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). The organization became the largest workers’ union in Britain.
Larkin was born on 21st January 1876. He came from a poor family that lived in Liverpool. He received little formal education and had to engage in various odd jobs while he still was a child.
In 1905, James became a full-time trade organizer at National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL). He was passionate in his fight for the employees` welfare. He was at the forefront of multiple groups and organizations that advocated for the workers` rights.
Larkin unionized the workforce in Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Waterford, between 1907 and 1908, on behalf of NUDL. He accomplished this while courting controversy with the top echelon. He was expelled from the union and prosecuted for going against the management`s instructions.
He was accused of causing a dispute in Berlin where he urged workers to go on strike. He also used union funds to illegally pay Cork workers who were on unofficial strike.
After the expulsion, Larkin founded Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in 1908. In 1911, he launched a newspaper, The Irish Worker and People’s Advocate, in 1911. He was hoping to oppose the press that he considered capitalistic.
The 1913 Lockout, however, was to turn his success sour. Aiming to incorporate even unskilled workers into his union, Larkin initiated a conflict with the Dublin United Tramway Company (DUTC). The company had sacked some workers for allegedly joining his ITGWU.
The proprietor of DUTC, William Martin Murphy, did not also want his workers unionized. The standoff escalated when Tramway workers staged a strike and refused to sign a pledge requiring them not join ITGWU. There was a major lockout that lasted over seven months. Tramway Union boss was very critical of Larkin`s behavior.
After the lockout, Larkin went to The United States, in 1914, to pursue a public-speaking career. He also wanted to raise funds for ITGWU. James Larkin joined the Socialist Party of America. He was later expelled, in 1919, for supporting the Soviet Union. He was prosecuted for criminal anarchy in 1920. James Larkin was pardoned three years later and deported back to England.
After his return to Ireland, Jim Larkin founded the Irish Worker League. He had been dismissed and replaced at ITGWU in 1924 after an altercation with the Union leadership. That same year, his brother and son founded the Workers’ Union of Ireland. The group attracted two-thirds of ITGWU members. Later, the group supported his struggle for enrolment in the Labour Party.
Larkin was married to Elizabeth in 1903 and had four sons. However, the couple had disagreements due to Larkin`s enthusiasm with union matters. Elizabeth had initially joined him in The United States after the Lockout but flew back to Dublin in 1916.
She even opted not to participate in a 1922 campaign to see Larkin released from Prison. Larkin died on 30th January 1947 in Meath Hospital. He had been admitted following a fall in WUI’s Thomas Ashe Hall where he was investigating some construction works.