Many of the benefits that employees enjoy in the United States today are similar to what the great James Larkin fought to have put in place for workers in Ireland so many years ago. In fact, he is famously known for his saying “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”
Born in 1876 in English slums to Irish parents, Mr. Larkin did a number of manual jobs by the time he started to rise up and become a trade unionist, fighting on behalf of workers in Ireland to have fair working conditions.
Though he had not much education, he had great drive and dedication, was widely considered a socialist, and he was committed to improving working conditions for laborers.
He would eventually join the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) and by 1905, he was a full-time organizer for this labor union. With a goal in mind to protect all Irish industrial workers, both skilled and unskilled, and have them belong to a union, eventually his agenda would dwarf the limitations he was experiencing at the NUDL.
In 1907,after the NUDL, upset with his propensity for striking, relocated him to Dublin. It is here where Mr. Larkin would move on to establish the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU).
This would be a far more inclusive union than the NUDL as all industrial workers could join, not just dock workers. James Larkin could fight on behalf of all workers through the ITGWU.
At the top of his agenda was a legal eight-hour workday and pensions for workers when they reach the age of 60.
This political program of the ITGWU stated that their aim was to fight for the “land of Ireland for the people of Ireland.” By 1912, in partnership with James Connolly, the Irish Labour Party was formed.
There were strikes as the Party fought to gain rights for laborers, and the biggest of these strikes was the 1913 “Dublin Lockout,” which started because unskilled workers were treated very poorly and had very few rights during these times.
This storied strike waged on for several months and eventually James Larkin and James Connolly guided these workers to a better set of circumstances and the right to fair employment.
It has long been said the Irish are good with “the word,” and that said, James Larkin was absolutely no exception. He was a powerful orator by all accounts, and anyone who was ever in his presence when he addressed his growing crowd of laborers, felt as if they were in the presence of someone very special.
Not everyone was a fan, but this is ultimately inconsequential, and all-but-guaranteed, when one is executing a mission to make the lives of the masses better. He was very passionate about the work of the Irish Labour Party.
He never used violence against firms or strike-breakers as the goal was not to ruin business, but rather just to make sure if his workers were going to be in the employ of that business, that they would not be toiling away in awful circumstances. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/jim-larkin-released-from-prison and http://ireland-calling.com/james-larkin/
William Butler Yeats, a fan or Mr. Larkin, wrote a poem about the Dublin Lockout, so the Irish Labour Party did enjoy its share of powerful supporters.
The most important thing, however, is he had the support of the people for whom he was fighting. Even today, workers do not like striking, but without striking and unions, workers would have never gotten any rights in the workplace.
Divide and conquer, so many years later, is the clear mantra of many corporations as they fight against the unions. James Larkin, all those years ago, joined a fight that is still in progress over 100 years later.
The concern is that workers today are blissfully, or unwittingly blissful as it were, unaware of what precipitated the rise of labor unions, yet the pendulum will likely swing, and this world will see a rise in organizing workers to gain protections in the workplace once again.