Big Jim

Dublin 005

And Tyranny trampled them in Dublin’s gutter,
Until Larkin came along and cried
The call of Freedom and the call of Pride,
And Slavery crept to its hands and knees

(from Jim Larkin by Patrick Kavanagh)

This statue of the Anglo-Irish Trade Union leader and Socialist, James Larkin, stands in O’Connell Street in Dublin, in front of the General Post Office (the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting during the 1916 Irish uprising). Born in Liverpool to Irish parents, Jim became active in the trade union movement on the docks in the city of his birth, becoming a full time organiser in 1905 for the National Union Of Dock Labourers (NUDL). He also became a socialist, joining the Independent Labour Party. He was an inspirational speaker and at over six feet tall earned the nickname “Big Jim”.

In January 1907 he was sent to Belfast to organise the dock workers and was successful in recruiting hundreds of new members. This ultimately led to a bitter industrial dispute. In 1908 he was sent to Dublin where he successfully organised casual labourers on the docks. Taking on the employers, he led the dockers in strikes against Union instructions, which led to him being expelled from the NUDL. This led to him founding the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) which grew rapidly. By 1913 the union had 10,000 members and had secured wage increases for most of them. However, the Dublin United Tramway Company, owned by industrialist and newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy, sacked employees he suspected of ITGWU membership and in response, on 26 August, the tramway workers went on strike. The dispute escalated rapidly with other employers locking out workers who refused to sign a pledge not to join the ITGWU. The bitter dispute lasted for seven months with employers bringing in blackleg labour over from Britain. It was defeated mainly due to the refusal of the British TUC to support the Irish strikers with sympathy action.

(Image from here)

After losing the strike, Jim went to America where he continued to be an active trade unionist and socialist, joining the American Socialist Party and the “Wobblies” – the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) syndicalist trade union movement. He was imprisoned for violating New York’s Criminal Anarchy Act.  He served 3 years of a 5 year sentence before being deported, returning to Ireland in April 1923. In September of that year he formed the Irish Worker League which later evolved into the Irish Communist Party. Although later becoming disillusioned with the Soviet Union, he remained a socialist until the very end. He died in his sleep on 30 January 1947.

Read more about big Jim Larkin here, here and here.

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5 thoughts on “Big Jim

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