James Larkin led a difficult and inspirational life. As a child, living in the slums of Liverpool, he worked odd jobs to help his family, and eventually worked his way into a foreman position.
During a time when few Irishman were in a union, and even fewer unions were dedicated to Irish workers, James Larkin saw an opportunity to improve the lives of the people around him. In 1905, he joined the National Union of Dock Labourers as a Union Organizer. But is attitude about striking, made his co-workers nervous, and it wasn’t long before the was transferred to Dublin.
And in 1907, he founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. The ambitious goal of this union was to bring together all the workers of Ireland regardless of skill level or trade. His primary goal for the ITGMU was to make it a cultural force in society.
During the Great Labour Unrest, this union rose to become a major union in the Irish Trade Union Congress and became instrumental in the creation of the Labour Party. It is perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments in his career.
In 1913, during the Dublin Lockout, James Larkin pushed himself to the brink, sacrificing even his health in support of the union workers and lost. In 1914, he moved to America in order to begin a career in public speaking, but that career never took off.
Although Americans were against the war in Europe, they were not in favor of James Larkin’s pro-German views. He was arrest in 1919 and convicted of criminal anarchy before being thrown in jail. And in 1923, he was deported to England.
This lead to a dark period of his life where even his wife refused to join him, preferring instead to live quietly in Dublin with their younger sons. He remained an active advocate for the rights of workers, and in his later years, relaxed this more militant opinions.
He died in Januarary of 1947, decades after the peak of his political and social peak.