The son of Irish emigrants, James Larkin was born 1876 in Liverpool, England. The Larkin family was poor, living in the slums of Liverpool; Larkin supplemented the family income by working in the afternoon after attending school in the morning. After his father died, Larkin worked a series of jobs, first as an apprentice, then a sailor, docker, and dock foreman. However, it was Larkin’s blooming interest in socialism at this time which became the foundation for the mark in history he would go onto make.
After becoming a member of the Independent Labour Party, Larkin participated in the Liverpool dock strikes, losing his job as a foreman, but was appointed to be one of the strike organizers by the National Union of Dock Labourers. Larkin succeeded in quickly uninonizing workers, organizing in Belfast, Dublin, Cork, and Waterford. Through his methods, he was able to unite Protestant and Catholic workers and led workers to demand better wages. However, Larkin’s tactics did not sit well with everyone and he was expelled from the National Union of Dock Labourers following a disagreement with union leaders.
Larkin then founded the Irish Transport and General Works Union in 1908, which is still in existence today. The union sought to unite all Irish laborers, both skilled and unskilled industrial workers in an effort to gain fair employment across Ireland. Using his new union, Larkin once again successfully ran strikes throughout Ireland.
The most historical strike came in 1913 and was dubbed the Dublin Lockout. Larkin took aim at two of Ireland’s largest employers, the Dublin United Tramway Company and Guinness. The Dublin United Tramway Company was chaired by Murphy who owned several newspapers and was staunchly anti-union. He suspected employees of joining the ITGWU and fired over 300 workers over the course of two weeks. This led to the Dublin Lockout, with employers across Ireland locking out employees due to ITGWU loyalty and unionized workers refusing to back down. After seven months, the lockout ended, with Larkin shedding new light onto the plight of poor laborers living in poverty without just wages.