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James Larkin: Making the World Better for Workers


In the first month of 1874 in Liverpool, one of the roughest parts of England, a woman gave birth to an Irish boy. The baby would learn to scrap and fight to survive and eventually he would grow to become a hero to many Irish workers. That boy was James Larkin.

Liverpool in the late 1800’s was a time and place where even young children worked to help supplement the family’s income which usually didn’t amount to much even when combined. Larkin worked at jobs that had two things in common, poor treatment of workers and low wages. James developed a passion for improving the plight of employees.

In 1905, he joined the National Union of Dock Laborer’s (NUDL), and here he found his place in the world when he became a trade union organizer. Larkin fought hard for members rights, so hard that he unnerved the people who ran the NUDL. To pacify management James was transferred to Dublin two years after he joined. This move would set the stage for Larkin’s most famous battle against capitalism.

James formed the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in 1907 after his transfer to Dublin. He was now in a position that would bring him face to face with William Martin Murphy, the chairman of The Dublin United Tramway Company. In 1913 more than 100,000 workers went on strike against the United Tramway as drivers and conductors abandoned their vehicles.

Chairman Murphy immediately set in motion previous plans made to keep the cars moving. He used employees who had been transferred to office positions within the company to replace the men who walked off. The cars ran only during the day to keep the scabs out of danger. Read more: The Definite Biography of Big Jim Larkin and Jim Larkin – Biography

The strike lasted for almost eight months and ended when Murphy met union demands. The victory was the high point of James Larkin’s career. He had become well-known internationally as a champion of the working man, but the success and fame had come at a significant price.

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