James Larkin (1876-1947)

Quotations


Life
b. Liverpool of poor Irish parents, 21 Jan. 1876; raised in Newry, Co. Down, with his grandparents, 1881-85; goes to work in Liverpool as labourer, 1885; later seaman and foreman dock-porter for T. & J. Harrison Ltd.; goes on strike in sympathy with the men and sacked, 1906; became organiser of National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL, fnd. in the London dock strike of 1889); elected General Organizer of the NUDL, and sent to Belfast to represent Trades Union Movt. in disputes, Jan. 1907, the year of Edward VII’s visit, and recruits 400 members in three weeks; employers sack NUDL members, July 1907; lengthy Belfast strike collapses in sectarian recriminations; travels officially to Dublin and launches NUDL there, 11 Aug. 1907; recruits 2,700 members and engages in disputes in Dublin and Cork; NUDL sacks Larkin due to internal expense of his actions, 7 Dec. 1908; settles in Dublin, 1908;
 
launches Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), Dec. 1908-Jan. 1909; also supported Temperance Campaign; expelled from Irish Trades Union Conference for strike tactics, 1909; consolidated a brief non-sectarian workers’ front; fnd. with his sister Delia, and with Helena Molony, Irish Women Workers’ Union; convicted and imprisoned on charge of misappropriating Cork NUDL funds, June-Oct. 1910; released following petition by Dublin Trades Council; fnd. Irish Worker and People’s Advocate, May 1911, reaching a circulation of 95,000 in 3 months; Irish Transport and General Workers' Union [ITGWU], affiliated to Irish Trade Union Conference [ITUC], 1911;
 
Larkin elected President of ITUC, 1911; Liberty Hall acquired as premises of the Union, 1912; rented Clontarf estate as recreation centre for workers and their families; supported James Connolly’s call for an Irish Labour Party; took seat on Dublin Corporation but dislodged within a month as a convicted felon, 1912; opposed by William Martin Murphy, organiser of Irish Employers Federation; great labour meeting at Beresford Place with speeches by Larkin and Connolly from the balcony of Imperial Hotel, resulting in police charges - aka Bloody Sunday, 13 Aug. 1913; Dublin Tramways workers strike commences, 26 Aug. 1913; meeting of Union members interrupted by police, with arrest of Larkin and Connolly and the death of two others, 30 Aug. 1913; Connolly and Larkin released, 12 Sept. 1913, following petitions by Kerr Hardie, G. B. Shaw, and others; denounced as revolutionary syndicalist by Philip Snowden in Labour Leader;
 
infamous Lock-Out organised by William Martin Murphy [hence Great Lock-Out Strike], involving 24,000 workers and their 80,000 dependents; Industrial Peace Commission estabished with AE and others, later renamed Civic League; Larkin manages Fiery Cross campaign supplying US and British support for Dublin workers; proposes foundation of Citizen Army at Phoenix Park Rally, to be led by Capt. Jack R. White, 5 Oct. 1913; tried for sedition and sentences to seven months imprisonment, 27 Oct.; released from prison, following mass-meeting at Albert Hall addressed by G. B. Shaw, Sylvia Pankhurst, et al., 14 Nov. 1913; travels to England to address trades' unions there; Dublin strikers cave in and return to work, 30 January 1914 (“We are beaten, we will make no bones about it; but we are not too badly beaten still to fight”);
 
back in Dublin, Larkin calls on Irish workers not to enlist for World War I and organised anti-war demonstrations (“Stop at home. Arm for Ireland. Fight for Ireland and no other land.”); The Irish Worker is suppressed, Aug. 1914; Larkin departs to America to raise funds, late Oct. 1914; ITGWU managed at home by Connolly and William O’Brien; Larkin becomes involved with American syndicalism; organises James Connolly Club in New York, 17 March, 1918, inviting John Reed to speak on Russia; spoke in support of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, 2 Feb. 1919; profesed that Russia was the only country where men and women can be free; expelled from American Socialist Party by leadership with 20,000 others, 24 May 1919; arrested with 10,000 others as communists and anarchists, 7 Nov. 1919; tried on 30 Jan. 1920, and presents his own defence in terms of the tradition of American liberty; sentenced to 10 years hard labour in US for ‘criminal syndicalism’ [var. ‘anarchy’], on 3 May 1920;
 
serves 3-year sentence in Sing Sing; annually re-elected as ITGWU Gen. Secretary up to his release; pardoned by incoming NY Mayor Alfred Smith in the interests of free speech, largely through intercession of Joseph Connolly, Jan. 1923 (‘We get Larkin released’); returns to Ireland to triumphant welcome but meets resistance in his attempt to resume ITGWU leadership from William O’Brien and others, incl. Thomas Johnston, then Labour Party leader; suspended as gen. secretary of ITGWU; sued and loses suit, being declared bankrupt; expelled, 24 March 1924; fnds. Workers’ Union of Ireland with br. Peter and son James (Jnr.), 1924; visits Soviet Union as rep. of Irish Section of Comintern, 1924 and 1928; elected Dáil deputy [TD], Feb. 1927, but does not take his seat; re-elected 1932, but loses seat Jan. 1933; won North Dublin seat in Dail Eireann, 1937-44; re-admitted to Labour Party, with his son, 1943-44 [var. 1945]; secures amendments to Trade Union Act, and campaigned against Wages Standstill order, 1941;
 
wins Labour nomination and seat against opposition of O’Brien; ITGWU disaffiliated from Congress, 1945; attained fortnight’s annual leave for workers, and contested rising prices; d. in his sleep, 30 Jan. 1947; his sis. Delia was also involved in Labour organisation; the standard biography is Emmet Larkin (1965), Professor of British and Irish History at Univ. of Chicago - unrelated namesake; he is Red Jim in O’Casey’s labour play, The Star Turns Red (1940); Larkin is a character in James Plunkett’s Strumpet City; the life-size statue of Larkin orating, set on a granite plinth of four blocks on the central promenade of O’Connell St., Dublin, a little north of the GPO, is by Oisin Kelly (1977). DIB [DIW] DIH FDA DUB OCIL

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Criticism
  • R. M. Fox, Jim Larkin: The Rise of the Underman (London: Lawrence & Wishart 1957), 183pp., and Do. in US as Jim Larkin: Irish Labor Leader (NY: International Publs. 1957), 183pp. [5pp. pls.];
  • James Plunkett, ‘Jim Larkin’, in Thomas Davis Lectures, ed. J. W. Boyle (Cork 1966) [q.pp.];
  • Emmet Larkin, James Larkin: Irish Labour Leader 1876-1947 (1965; rep. 1968);
  • Emmet Larkin, In the Footsteps of Big Jim: A Family Biography ([Dublin:] Blackwater Press 1996), 252pp.;
  • Donal Nevin, ed., James Larkin: Lion of the Fold (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1998), xv, 557pp; ill [48pp of pls.], facs., ports., 24cm.
See also Frank Harris, Contemporary Portraits [incls. memoir of Larkin], and R. M. Fox, Louis Bennett: Her Life and Times (Dublin: Talbot Press 1958); J. Anthony Gaughan, ed., Memoirs of Senator Joseph Connolly, 1885-1961: A Founder of Modern Ireland (IAP 1996) [on Larkin in Belfast and America], and John Newsinger, Rebel City: Connolly and the Dublin Labour Movement (Merlin [UK] 2004).

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Commentary
George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (?1932; and rev. ed. 1972), ‘From the sordid and somewhat bloodstained complexities of the Great Dublin Strike, two figures emerge – those of William Martin Murphy and James Larkin; Larkin, poss. illegitimate son of one of the Invincibles of the Phoenix Park assassinations (Cavendish and Bourke). [q.p.]

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Sean O’Casey [as P. Ó Cathasaigh] gives an account of Larkin, The Story of the Irish Citizen Army (Maunsel 1919), Chap. VI, ‘Social Life’: ‘Jim Larkin as the life and soul of these gatherings, and frequently the audience would imperiously demand “a song from Jim” ... the Red Flag or The Rising o’ the Moon.’ [36] ‘In 1914 an elaborate plan had been sketched by Jim Larkin for the organisation of all Ireland, and he spent some weeks designing a suitable travelling caravan, which was to consist of a living room and two small bedrooms, in which he and a few chosen followers were to tour the country, and to form companies of the Army in every hamlet and village in Ireland.’ [42]

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Sean O’Casey, Drums Under the Windows (1963 Edn.): ‘Here was a man who could put a flower in a vase on a table as well as a loaf of bread on the plate. Here, Sean thought, is the beginning of a broad and busy day, the leisurely evening, the claimer night.’ (p.221.)

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Sean O’Casey (words written on the day that Larkin died): ‘It is hard to belive that this great man is dead, for all thoughts and all activities surged in the soul of this labour leader. He was far and away above the orthodox labour leader, for he combined within himself the imagination of the artist, with the fire and determination of a leader of a downtrodden class.’ (Q.source; quoted in Emmet Larkin, ‘The Man who became the Irish labour movement incarnate’, in The Irish Times, 30 Jan. 1996; being part of the text of a Thomas Davis Series lecture, RTÉ, 17 Feb 1997, p.14.)

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Quotations
Arise!: ‘We are going to rouse the working classes out of their slough of despond [...] out of the mire of poverty and misery - and lift them to a place higher. If it is good for the employers to have clean clothing and good food and books and music, and pictures, so it is good that the people should have these things also - and that is the claim we are making today.’ (Quoted in Emmet Larkin, ‘The Man who became the Irish labour movement incarnate’, The Irish Times, 30 Jan. 1996; being part of the text of a Thomas Davis Series lecture, RTÉ, 17 Feb 1997, p.14.)

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References
R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988), bio-note records that reformed Irish branch of Independent Labour Party and fnd. ITGWU, 1908; Pres. Irish Trades Union Congress, 1911; imprisoned, 1913-14; denounced Treaty [from prison], 1922; tumultuous welcome in Dublin; expelled from ITGWU by anti-socialist committee; secured the Trade Union Act and opposed Standstill Order, 1941.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects Larkin’s ‘Scathing Indictment of Dublin Sweaters’ [707-11] BIOG 809-10 [b. 1876]. Joseph Lee, Ireland 1912-1985 (1989) adds. bibl. E[mmet] Larkin, James Larkin, Irish Labour leader 1876-1947 (London 1968 ed.)

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Notes
The Irish Worker, the ‘first successful Labour publication’ and the Larkin edited voice of the ITGWU (Arthur Mitchell, Labour in Irish Politics 1890-1913, IUP 1974, p.79; quoted in Cheryl Herr, For The Land They Loved, 1991, p.54.

Literary tributes: Brendan Behan’s poem on Larkin is given in Donal Nevin, ed., Trade Union Century (Mercier/RTE/ICTU 1995); see also a Patrick Kavanagh: ‘And thus I heard Jim Larkin’s ghost above / The Crowd who wanted to turn aside / From reality coming to free them. / Terrified / They hid in the clouds of dope and would not move.’

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Public support: when tried and sentenced for sedition on 5 Oct. 1913, Larkin and the Dublin workers generally were made the object of a mass meeting chaired by George Lansbury at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and addressed by Shaw, F. W. Petick-Lawrence, Ben Tillett, James Connolly, Mrs Montefiore, Sylvia Pankhurst, Mrs Despard, Delia Larkin, George “AE” Russell and two others. (See Alan Denson, Letters from AE, London: Abelard Schuman 1961, Chronological table, p.xxxiv.)

ITGWU (fnd. Dec. 1908): the programme incl. ‘legal eight hours' day, provision of work for all unemployed, and pensions for all workers at 60 years of age. Compulsory Arbitration Courts, adult suffrage, nationalisation of canals, railways, and all the means of transport. The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland.’ See Spartacus SchoolNet website [online].

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Peter Wood, The Price of a Cigar (London: Anchor Books 1997) is a documentary novel dealing with the London dock-strike of 1889.

Arnold Wright, Disturbed Dublin: The Story of the Great Strike of 1913-1914 (London: Longmans 1914), was commissioned by William Martin Murphy to put the employers’ side.

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Portraits: Anne Crookshank, Irish Portraits Exhibition (Ulster Mus. 1965) lists James Larkin by Mina Carney, bust; see also pencil on paper by Seán O’Sullivan RHA [NGI] and there is a pencil sketch of ‘Larkin at Work in Liberty Hall’ by William Orpen; the statue in O’Connell Str., Dublin, is by Oisin Kelly (1977).

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