James Larkin was born on January 24, 1876 to Irish parents and grew up in the slums of Liverpool, England (Biography.com). As such, he had very little formal education. He worked a number of jobs, eventually becoming a foreman at the Liverpool docks. A committed socialist, Larkin believed that workers were treated unfairly, and eventually joined the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) (Biography.com).
In 1905 he lost his job as a dock foreman, and joined the NUDL full-time as an organizer. In 1907, the NUDL sent Larkin to Belfast to help organize the unskilled labor force there, but his militant methods led to disagreements with the NUDL leaders (BBC History).
As a result NUDL sent him to Dublin in 1907, where he eventually broke with the union and formed his own, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). Read more: Jim Larkin – Biography and Jim Larkin | Wikipedia
Founded in 1908 the ITGWU advocated for the rights of Irish workers, demanding nationalization of transportation, adult suffrage, compulsory arbitration of courts, and pensions for all workers at 60 years of age, among other things (ireland-calling.com).
Rather than focusing on strikes, Larkin worked to build the ITGWU’s popularity by turning its headquarters into a social center and began a newspaper, the Irish Worker, in 1911 to help spread the union’s ideas.
Larkin turned the union into Ireland’s most militant and largest union within three years of its founding (BBC History, History Ireland). The ITGWU had many successes under Larkin’s leadership, most notably the 1912 establishment of the Labour Party in the Irish Trades Union Congress.
In 1913, Larkin began to attempt to recruit workers from the Dublin trams. The tramway’s boss, William Martin Murphy, prevented his workers from joining the ITGWU, leading to the 1913 Lockout. The Lockout revealed how popular Larkinism was among the workers of Dublin, but ended in defeat for Larkin and labour.
In 1914, after the defeat of the ITGWU, Jim Larkin moved to the United States. He encouraged fellow Irishmen to stay out of the first World War upon its outbreak, and eventually joined the Socialist Party of America, which he was later expelled from due to his support of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.
In 1919, Larkin was arressted during the first Red Scare and deported to England. Afterwards he returned to Ireland, where he lived until his death in 1947.