Jim Larkin: The Labor Organizer who changed the Work Culture of the UK

Jim Larkin is the name that changed the work culture of the U.K., especially in Ireland. He was a prominent labor activist and organizer in the country and the founder of Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. He demanded that a fair day’s work can only be compensated with a fair day’s pay.

It became a much-used phrase across the globe, among the labor activists to demand fair pay. He also established Irish Labor Party and was the leader of one of the largest trade union movements in the country – 1913 Dublin Lockout. He was also regarded as one of the most prominent liberal faces of the country in the early 20th century.

The labor activist was born in Liverpool in the year 1874 and lived his initial years of lives in the slums of the city with almost no regular education. In order to support his family, Jim Larkin started engaging in various odd jobs from his young ages.

It finally made him becoming a foreman at the docks of Liverpool. During the period, the casual workers in the industry were facing severe exploitation, including long work hours and unfair payment. Therefore, he started collaborating with the National Union of Dock Laborers and became its full-time organizer since 1905.

After two years, NUDL transferred him to Dublin, where he established ITGWU. By founding the union, Larkin tried to make all industrial workers, irrespective of skilled or unskilled, of Ireland into one organization. In 1912, he established Irish Labor Party to make a political movement in favor of labors.

In 1913, he made a landmark in the history of the trade unions around the globe by leading the Dublin Lockout – a strike that saw the participation of over 100,000 workers which lasted for more than eight months. The strike ensured fair employment rights to all the skilled and unskilled industrial workers in the region. Read more: James Larkin | Biography

During the period of 1st World War, he campaigned against it in Dublin and traveled to the U.S. for mobilizing funds for resisting the British. He was detained there for communism and activism in 1920 and convicted for five to ten years in prison. Three years later, he got pardoned and deported to Ireland.

Due to the differences with the new leadership of ITGWU, he moved out of the trade union which he founded. In 1924, Larkin established another trade union called Workers’ Union of Ireland. Due to the failures of ITGWU leadership in resisting the wage reforms between 1921 and 1923, over two-thirds of ITGWU members switched to WUI.

During the later years of his life, Larkin concentrated more into the politics. In the 1927 general election, he contested from Dublin North and won. However, he could not assume the post due to he was declared as an undischarged bankrupt due to a libel award against him.

In 1941, Larkin returned to Labor party and actively campaigned against a trade union restructuring bill. He served as the deputy of the Labor Party for a year from 1943. Larkin continued his active political and trade union life until his death in 1947.