Activist and folk hero James Larkin was born in Liverpool, England in 1876. He grew to become one of the most instrumental people in the Irish labor movement.
Larkin was born into extreme poverty. To help support his family, he took on a number of jobs as a youth. After several years as a dockworker, he became a dock foreman. Larkin became a socialist and was very interested in the pay and treatment of workers. He joined the Independent Labor Party in 1905. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/big-jim-larkin-hero-and-wrecker/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/easterrising/profiles/po08.shtml
After being elected to the strike committee, he lost his foreman’s job, but became a temporary organizer of the National Union of Dock Laborers. In 1907, he went to Belfast to organize labor strikes. He also organized workers in Dublin, Cork and Waterford.
In 1911, Larkin founded the Irish Workers and People’s Advocate, a newspaper that called out unfair employers and went after Larkin’s enemies.
The 1913 Dublin Lockout was the most significant in Irish history. More than 20,000 workers and 300 employers were involved in the strike. It lasted for about 8 months and basically surrounded the worker’s right to unionize. Read more: James Larkin | Ireland Calling and Jim Larkin | Biography
Not only were the working conditions in Dublin horrendous, the living conditions were far worse. The slums were overrun with cramped conditions, poor healthcare and rampant disease. Infant mortality and cases of TB were 50% higher than Scotland or Englad.
The rampant poverty was due to the number of unskilled workers. The workers were at the mercy of their employer. Individuals who didn’t sign the employer pledge were sacked. After several months of violence, a number of workers relented and signed the employee pledge.
It came down to hunger and the British withdrawal of funds. Many businesses ended up filing for bankruptcy as well.
At the end of the lockout, Larkin traveled to the U.S. to raise funds for the union. He returned to the U.S. in 1924 to a hero’s welcome.