To many, he was a hero and a visionary. To many others, he was a social malcontent and dangerous anarchist. Today, however, a magnificent statue of a heroic Jim “Big Jim” Larkin commands a prominent position on one of Dublin’s busiest streets. Read more: Jim Larkin | Wikipedia and James Larkin | Biography
Jim Larkin was a man who had the audacity to wage class warfare against the ruling elites of Ireland and England in the opening decades of the 20th Century. It was a time when masses or workers toiled endless hours for poverty-level wages.
At the same time, a tiny minority of wealthy elites enjoyed enormous wealth and power. They considered it a natural state that some people are born on the top, while others are fated to endless drudgery on the bottom.
Jim Larkin and his parents were among those born into the desperate situation that was the lives of unskilled workers in Ireland during the closing years of the 19th Century.
Larkin’s bitter experience as a child laborer, and watching his own father die at a relatively young age broke and penniless, launched him on a lifetime mission to fight back against a system he believed was cruelly rigged.
While working as a foreman on the docks, Larkin became deeply involved in union activity. He played a prominent role in organizing strikes. He founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in 1909.
The new union was a reborn entity, drawing away workers from Larkin’s former association with the National Union of Dock Labourers – an organization which had just kicked Larkin out.
Big Jim would play a central role in organizing one of the most massive and historically significant strikes in Irish labor history – the infamous 1913 Dublin Lockout. This pitted some 20,000 fed-up workers against about 300 prominent companies and business owners.
The Dublin Lockout was ultimately a defeat for Larkin – but in the eyes of history, the event sent shock waves through the status quo, making changes in business-to-labor relations inevitable.
Big Jim Larkin remains a bona fide Irish hero in the eyes of his countryman today.