James Larkin- Activist for Union Rights

James Larkin was born on January 21, 1876 in Liverpool, England, the second eldest son of Irish immigrants. As young child, he and his family lived in the slums of Liverpool. Due to his family’s poverty and need for supplemental income, at age seven James would attend school in the morning and work in the evening so that he could help to provide more income for the family.

By today’s standards this may seem unreasonable, however, during this particular time in history such arrangements were common among families and labor companies.

At age fourteen, James’s father died and he became an apprentice to the company that his father worked at, however, he would be dismissed after only two years.

After being dismissed, he spent some time unemployed. However, he would find employment as a sailor and docker, achieving the position of dock foreman in 1903. James Larkin was a socialist, and held the belief that workers were treated unfairly. His beliefs would eventually lead him to join the strike on the Liverpool docks in 1905. Read more: Jim Larkin – Biography

Though he lost his job as a result of taking part in the strike, his performance during the endeavor impressed the National Union of Dock Labourers to the extent that the offered him a position as a temporary organizer for the party. In 1906 he would gain a permanent position with the unit that resulted in him being transferred to Scotland.

He utilized this period to successfully organize efforts and workers together in Preston and Glasgow and also protested against the use of Chinese immigrants as workers in the docks because he felt that their employment was a threat to workers.

After working Scotland and organizing workers there, James Larkin moved his efforts to Ireland in 1907. It was there that he would organize the workers to stand together against employers that would not meet the demands for wage increases and other benefits that had long been denied to Irish workers.

However, it was also during this time that he would expelled from the NUDL due to him using funds to pay workers that were on strike and not receiving compensation while engaged in such activities.

After his expulsion from the NUDL, James Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Worker’s Union (ITGWU), which still exists today in the form of other union organizations.

Larkin would continue his organizing efforts throughout his life. In 1913, he promoted the boycotting of goods and services among Irish workers. In 1914, he would leave Ireland and travel to the United States to join the Socialist Party of America, however, he would be expelled in 1919.

Larkin would take part in other efforts before returning to Ireland 1923. Upon returning to Europe, he would meet with other trade organizers and union organizers to work on rights for laborers across Ireland.

James Larkin died on January, 30, 1947. His life would be remembered for his work in organizing workers as a Marxist all the way until his death.

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