The name Jim Larkin still looms large in Dublin today some 70 years after his death.
Without the extraordinary life and effort of the man who was known as “Big Jim,” it is impossible to imagine what the Irish economic landscape would look like today, especially in terms of its relationship between big business and labor. Read more: Jim Larkin – Biography
Jim Larkin was born of Irish parents in Liverpool, England. His father, James Larkin and mother Mary Ann, were desperately poor, barely eking out a living in the slums of Liverpool. Young Jim Larkin had only scant formal education, attending school only part time because he needed to work from an early age to help his family survive.
After his father died when young Jim Larkin was 14 his schooling was over. It seemed only a life of hard manual labor was his fate. Indeed, Larkin worked at plenty of backbreaking jobs before he eventually found his way to the docks. There he rose to the position of foreman of dockworkers.
But Jim Larkin was more than just a grunt who was content to do his job, collect a tiny wage and be content with what life handed out. Larkin was a thinker, a reader and most of all, an extremely astute observer of men. He also had a passion for social justice.
Jim Larkin could not help but dwell on how topsy-turvy the world seemed – a few extremely rich people at the top controlled all the wealth and power, while millions of common folks subsisted on the scraps that trickled down from above – but only at the cost of hard and endless toil. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://spartacus-educational.com/IRElarkin.htm
It was natural that Larkin was attracted to the growing socialist and communist movements stirring in places like Russia and Germany. Larkin studied socialism and became a member of the Independent Labor Party in 1905. Even though he was a foreman, (nominally an extension of management), Larkin eagerly joined in strike activity and even helped organize strikes. This led to his entry into the National Union of Dock Labourers, an organization in which he would rise to ever higher position.
Jim Larkin soon became among the most powerful labor union organizers in Ireland – a career that would be long, complicated, harsh and controversial. Today, “Larkinism” is considered by scholars to be among the three most influential social movements that comprise the character and structure of what modern unionism is in Ireland today.