James Larkin, the Socialist leader who became known to the workers of Ireland as “Big Jim” may have been born in the English port city of Liverpool to Irish parents but his heart will always be seen as Irish.
Despite the little education he received as a child, Larkin became a dedicated socialist and campaigner for worker’s rights who is celebrated in Ireland in song, stories, and public statues; the best attempts of the establishment to besmirch his reputation would not succeed and led to Jim Larkin remaining one of the most important figures in Irish history long after his death in 1947.
After arriving in Ireland in 1907 as the trade union organizer for the National Dock Laborers Union, Jim Larkin quickly formed his own Irish Transport and General Workers Union after feeling his work in Belfast was not being backed sufficiently by English Union leaders.
By 1913, the ITGWU was growing in popularity and the general strike of 1913 in Dublin is often seen as the culmination of the unionization of the workers of the nation.
Using his links on the Belfast docks, Larkin made the move to build a powerful union and assist other unions in gaining members, a good example of this was the 1911 dock laborers strike which forced sailors to join Ireland’s Seaman’s Union.
The blame for the so-called “Dublin Lockout” was placed at the door of Jim Larkin by a group of 400 capitalists in charge of the majority of companies in Ireland but the groups themselves gave an ultimatum to tramway workers that any attempt to unionize would be met with a loss of their job.
Jim Larkin had known the importance of the trams to Dublin when he formed the ITGWU and set out to attract them into his newly formed group.
The ultimatum of the tramway owners to their workers was met with an eight-month general strike when more employers began demanding their workers refuse to join the ITGWU.
Despite his socialist views, Jim Larkin knew the importance of the capitalist system to the Irish public and refused to use violence against strike-breakers which was the norm of the time period.