James Larkin is a legendary trade unionist who fought for fair wages for all dock workers in England. Before dying in 1947 aged 71, he had managed to set the stage for future trade union leaders to get their voices heard without fear of victimization. Larkin’s prime days were between 1900 and 1920, particularly after joining the National Union of Dock Laborers (NUDL) in 1905.
Having spent his childhood days in one of the slums in Liverpool, England, Larkin did not get the privilege of getting a quality education. As such, the jobs he could qualify for as a young man were casual and most often than not got meager remuneration. Big Jim, as many dock workers referred to him, was not contented with those working conditions and therefore chose to confront employees through mass action and demand rather than ask for pay increments.
This kind of approach was unprecedented in the labor sector; other trade unionists in the NUDL were uncomfortable with it and had to stop it. It was at that point that Larkin was transferred to Dublin.
The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union
Moving to Dublin did not kill Larkin’s spirit. He took advantage of his Irish origin to establish the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) in 1907. The organization brought together and fought for the welfare of Irish workers from all sectors of the economy.
A year into its operations, ITGWU made clear its pillars which included work for the unemployed, strictly 8 working hours per day, and labor arbitration courts. Larkin and co. also fought for the nationalization of the transport sector and for the introduction of a pension program for workers who exceeded 60 years. This made Larkin popular amongst the Irish workers and subsequently a powerful trade unionist.
The Irish Labor Party
After consolidating enough backing in the labor market, Larkin joined hands with James Connolly to start the Irish Labor Party in 1912. The primary goal of this organization was to advocate for the rights of unskilled Irish workers.
These workers who were more than 100,000 were subjected to unfair treatment and unfair workplace treatment. Larkin led the workers into a 7-month strike that forced employers to review these terms.