James “Big Jim” Larkin, notable activist and union man, was born on January 28, 1876 to impoverished Irish parents in the slums of Liverpool, England. He had almost no education, and instead started working young to support the family and was apprenticed at 14 after the death of his father. He eventually became a foreman at the Liverpool docks.
He married Elizabeth Brown, and had at least two sons, James Larkin Junior and Denis Larkin. Big Jim soon grew tired of the working conditions and joined the National Union of Dock Labourers, and in 1907 founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.
An intense Marxist, he wanted all Irish industry workers to join the union. His founding principles of the union sound standard today, but were revolutionary at the time: 8 hour workdays, pensions for 60 year old’s, suffrage, and nationalizing infrastructure and transportation.
1912 was a busy year for Big Jim, collaborating with James Connolly to form the Irish Labour Party, which they used to organize several strikes, where over 100,000 workers successfully went on strike for eight months. Big Jim is immortalized addressing a crowd during this time on O’Connell Street in Dublin, where his statue still attracts tourists today. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/profiles/po08.shtml and http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/big-jim-larkin-hero-and-wrecker/
His success stalled with the 1913 lockout, where many of the 400 employers of Dublin locked out union workers. He forged on, to the United States in 1914 while still remaining apart of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. He attempted and failed at starting a public speaking career, and eventually became a German agent.
He was tasked with disrupting war related industries in the United States, and either failed or refused to do so. He eventually joined the New York Socialist Party, which resulted in his arrest and conviction in 1919 of “Criminal Anarchy”. In 1923, he was pardoned and summarily deported to England, where he began a downward spiral and eventually separated from his wife.
He began slandering Irish Transport and General Workers Union leadership, which lead to his ejection in 1924, and the new Workers Union of Ireland to be formed a few short months later, starting a battle of Unions in Dublin.
As the decades hearkened on, he became a much calmer soul as he worked with the labour movement until his death on January 30, 1947.