James Larkin (1876-1947) was an Irish dock foreman, Marxist labor organizer, newspaper editor and public speaker. He founded the Irish Transport and General Worker’s Union (ITGWU) in 1907 in Dublin.
After growing up the child of a poor Irish family Larkin could have disappeared into the mists of obscurity but instead took on the plight of all Irish workers as his own in an attempt to garner better wages and working conditions.
He found work as a dock laborer in Liverpool, England where he grew up. He originally joined the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL). The NUDL found his calls for aggressive strikes to be too zealous and moved him from Liverpool to Dublin, Ireland.
This led Larkin to leave the NUDL and to the birth of the ITGWU which sought to unionize all laborers in the industrial sector. The ITGWU fought for an eight hour work day, pensions for laborers 60 years and older and the nationalization of all transportation in Ireland. Larkin was a fiery public speaker whose speeches demanding fair compensation resonated with workers all over Ireland.
Finding success with other groups of laborers, the work of the ITGWU under Larkin culminated in the failed eight month strike of tram workers known as the 1913 Lockout. The strikes led to over 10,000 workers losing their jobs when tram employers did not bend to the dissent.
Disparate over the Lockout and hoping to spread his influence and forward the predicament of workers, Larkin moved to the United States in an ill-fated attempt to become a public speaker.
While he did successfully tour the US on a socialist speaking platform in 1919 he was arrested and convicted of criminal anarchy which according to a 1918 New York State statute was “the doctrine that organized government should be overthrown by force or violence.”
In 1923 he was pardoned but was no longer welcome in the United States. Upon his return to Ireland he continued to fight for worker’s rights forming a new union, the Worker’s Union of Ireland (WUI), which he led until his death in 1947.