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James Larkin and the Labour Union

James Larkin had a pivotal role in the modern Irish Labour movement. He was born January 21, 1876 in Liverpool, England and grew up poor. He was uneducated and worked a series of manual jobs before becoming a foreman at the Liverpool docks. He joined the National Union of Dock Labors and by 1905 was an organizer.

The early 1900’s was an unfair time for workers in many countries that were developing rapidly as new laborers were arriving in droves, and business owners were able to take advantage of their desperation for employment. Read more: Jim Larkin – Biography and Jim Larkin | Wikipedia

Wages were subject to decrease with the abundance of new and willing workers standing by to replace the previous labor for less money. James Larkin first used the phrase “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” and he would organize workers with the intent of bettering working conditions.

Larkin intended for all Irish Industrial Workers to belong to the same union with goal of improving their welfare. He later formed the Irish Labour Party and would be responsible for leading workers in strikes including the 1913 Dublin Lockout that involved more than 10,000 workers and lasted for almost eight months resulting in the right to fair employment.

After that notorious event, Larking seemed to experience one downfall after another. He would go to America to raise funds, he ended up joining the Socialist Party. In 1920 he was convicted of criminal anarchy and Communism.

He was pardoned three years later and he was deported back to Ireland. Back in Ireland he organized the Workers’ Union of Ireland and gained recognition from Communist International in 1924.

Larkin’s behavior grew more and more radical after the Lockout and he seemed to be more involved in his own agenda than in that of the Irish workers.

His personal life suffered as well beginning with his actions in America. His friend James Connolly died in the Easter Rising in 1916 and Larkin founded the James Connolly Socialist Club which contributed to Left Wing activities.

His wife Elizabeth Brown whom he had married in 1903, and two of their four sons had originally joined him in America in December 1915 but they left and returned to Dublin by August 1916. She yearned for a less active life than Larkin led. In 1922 she refused to help him get out of jail. They later separated and she died in 1945.

James Larkin continued to work for the rights of the workers well in the 1940’s. He did become mellower in the later years of his life when he focused on such issues as fair housing and opposed the Trade Union Act 1941. Larkin died January 30, 1947 in Dublin, Ireland.

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