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Jim Larkin Was Extraordinary Labor Organizer

Ireland’s Jim Larkin organized his first strike at the age of 17. The year was 1893 and the young Larkin had only recently been made foreman of dock workers with the T. & J. Harrison shipping line.

He was promptly sacked for his role in leading a rebellion against his own employer — and so began the long career of one of Ireland’s most historically influential champions of the working class and urban poor. Read more: James Larkin – Wikipedia and James Larkin | Ireland Calling

Forming unions, recruiting members, leading strikes and working tirelessly for the cause of labor became Jim Larkin’s full-time occupation. In 1907 he was elected to the position of General Organizer for the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL).

In this capacity he was sent to Belfast to recruit new members for the NUDL. The tall and charismatic Larkin signed up 400 new members in just three weeks — a remarkable achievement considering joining the NUDL could easily get a man fired from a job he desperately needed to feed his family.

Indeed, that is exactly what happened. About six months after Larkin’s arrival on the scene, dock employers fired every member who had joined the union. What followed was a bitter, drawn-out dispute. It was clear — Jim Larkin was not going away and the union meant business.

Larkin moved on to Dublin to continue his recruitment efforts. His results were again remarkable. In less than a year, he managed to get some 2,700 men to sign on as dues-paying union members. Not only did he convince thousands to join the labor movement, Larkin led them in strikes that caused enormous disruptions in day-to-day business. Ironically, Larkin was so successful he got suspended from his own union for causing so much trouble.

Larkin easily brushed off this slight from the NUDL by starting his own new organization — the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. One of the central demands of this group was to establish a “legal 8-hour day” and a pension for workers who reached the age of 60.

The ITGWU went on to become one of the most powerful and significant unions of Ireland for most of the 20th century.

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