Ireland’s most legendary labor leader Jim “Big Jim” Larkin was just 17 years old when he was named a foreman dock-porter working on the famous T. & J. Harrison shipping line of Liverpool, England. Read more: James Larkin | Biography and James Larkin – Wikipedia
That meant Larkin was in charge of dozens of men far older and more experienced — but Larkin was no ordinary man. Big and “raw-boned,” Larkin stood 6-feet, four-inches tall on a lanky, muscular frame that commanded respect on sight.
But what is even more incredible is that this irascible young man then went ahead and did the unthinkable — he organized a strike against the company that had just promoted him! And it’s not difficult to understand why.
Still in his late teens, Jim Larkin was a person who had already lived a long life of hard labor. Born in the slums of Liverpool to impoverished parents, Larkin was obliged to enter the workforce as a child to help feed his family. His father died when Jim was 14. That meant what little formal schooling he had was well behind him and a lifetime of backbreaking work seemed his only destiny.
Perhaps from the beginning, Jim Larkin was acutely aware of the enormous inequality built into the society of late 19th Century England and Ireland. What he witnessed around him every day — and what he lived every day — was a system where a few privileged elites enjoyed enormous wealth and social power, while the masses below were relegated to barely surviving on pitiful wages.
Larkin may have received just a smattering of education, but he was a voluminous reader.
By age 17 he had already absorbed the works of Karl Marx, and some of his favorite American authors, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Learn more about Jim Larkin: http://spartacus-educational.com/IRElarkin.htm and http://ireland-calling.com/james-larkin/
He became enamored with the concept of socialism because it spoke directly to his own plight.
So even after being named a dock foreman as a teenager, Larkin was ready and willing to throw that job away and began a lifelong fight to improve the lives and labor conditions of “his people” — the urban working poor of Ireland and England.