“A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”
At a period in the early 20th century, workers from the United States to Ireland organized protests and strikes. During this time, people were excessively worked and grossly underpaid. The conditions for many workers was dangerously unsanitary, toxic, and hazardous. Even children worked alongside their parents in factories and other job sectors.
It was a time when everybody participated in the labor movement—even the children protested in the streets. People were angry because they were underpaid, overworked, and people were starving and were poorly housed. Many social activists and leaders came forth, and one of those figures was James “Big Jim” Larkin, who famously said: “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”
Furthermore, Larkin was at the forefront of the labor movement as an activist and trade union organizer during the early 1900s in Ireland. Before that, he worked as a docker, sailor, and a foreman. As a child, Larkin contributed financially after school to his family, including working as an apprentice at the firm where his father worked before he died.
Larkin’s socialism was fostered from his experiences growing up in the slums of Liverpool and having little formal education, which allowed him to recognize the struggle and pressures faced by those in poverty. While he worked as a docker, the urgency of the issues facing workers loomed over Larkin, prompting him to join the National Union of Dock Laborers (NUDL.) From here in 1905, he became a full-time trade union organizer which would mark a turning point for Larkin and the labor movement.
Moreover, union organizing was an effort to attain fair pay for workers, and Larkin was successful at uniting workers to demand their rights. Throughout Ireland, Larkin campaigned and organized strikes to incite revolution for all workers, but he met his end with the NUDL when differences in leadership became an issue with Larkin and others.
Consequently, the NUDL tried Larkin for embezzlement of funds for helping workers in Cork, and he served three months in prison. His prison conviction marked him with a criminal record, which affected him from claiming a seat in the Dublin Corporation.
To get back to helping workers, Larkin formed his own union known as the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU.) In fact, the union grew from 5,000 to about 15,000 members during this time. Larkin then created a newspaper The Irish Worker and the People’s Advocate to discuss the issues facing workers. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/jim-larkin-released-from-prison
Within four years, the newspaper was suppressed, but that didn’t keep Larkin stifled because he joined forces with James Connolly to establish the Irish Labor Party. Larkin’s proposition was for workers to demand much of what we have as citizens today: 8-hour work days, unemployment benefits, and retirement benefits.
To achieve this, Larkin initiated campaigns through “sympathetic strikes” and boycotting goods to send a message to corporations (such as Guinness and other employers) to adhere to the list of demands of their employees. These campaigns lasted for seven months with 100,000 workers on strike, which became known as the Dublin Lock-out of 1913. In Irish history, the Dublin Lock-out has been regarded as the most significant industrial dispute because it led to the right of fair employment.
Subsequently, Larkin gave talks in the United States for the same efforts, but was convicted in New York for suspected involvement in criminal anarchy and communism. Larkin’s conviction led to him being deported back to Ireland. Coming back to Ireland, Larkin sustained his popularity and continued to immerse himself in the labor movement. Later, Larkin made efforts to help fix housing problems in Ireland—even falling through the floor of the Workers’ Union of Ireland (WUI) Thomas Ashe Hall while supervising for the repairs. Shortly afterward Larkin died in a hospital.
Following Larkin’s death at the age of 71, Larkin’s legacy lived on through literature, songs, monuments, and has a road named after him in Liverpool where he was born. Now in a time where people are still overworked and underpaid, we all yearn for other leaders like James Larkin that will encourage everyone to stand up against corporations and demand their basic human rights.