Jim Larkin, R.I.P.

DESCRIPTION: Jim Larkin fought the Peelers in 1913 and "was treated to the batons by the Forces of the Crown." "The worker is a freeman now by his persevering fight." "R.I.P"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1947 ("Sold in the streets of Dublin the day of James Larkin's funeral," according to OLochlainn-More)
KEYWORDS: strike violence labor-movement Ireland memorial death police
HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
Jan 30, 1947 - "James Larkin died in his sleep." (source: _James Larkin_ on the Spartacus Educational site)
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
OLochlainn-More 20, "Jim Larkin, R.I.P" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES: Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union in 1909.
"By 1913 so many Dublin workers had joined the IT&GWU that employers refused to employ unionised workers, resulting in the infamous Dublin Lock-Out when over 100,000 workers were sacked and many more refused admittance to their workplace for over eight months. After the Lock-Out the IT&GWU was firmly established."
From 1914 to 1920 he organized workers in New York anLarkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union in 1909.
"By 1913 so many Dublin workers had joined the IT&GWU that employers refused to employ unionised workers, resulting in the infamous Dublin Lock-Out when over 100,000 workers were sacked and many more refused admittance to their workplace for over eight months. After the Lock-Out the IT&GWU was firmly established."
From 1914 to 1920 he organised workers in New York and was jailed until 1923 for "criminal syndicalism." He returned to Ireland and established the Worker's Union. He was later elected to the Dublin City Council and Dail Eireann. (source: Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - James Larkin (1876-1947)). - BS
That Dublin workers needed organization around the turn of the twentieth century is hardly to be denied. According to Golway, p. 207, prior to the activities of Larkin, "nearly half of all annual deaths [in Dublin] took place in workhouses, asylums, and prisons"; he points out that many workers were putting in seventy hour weeks to earn pay equivalent to what we would now call only about half of the "poverty line."
Similarly Kee, p. 195): "The poverty and squalor of much of Dublin in the early years of the twentieth century appalled all who encountered it. A government report issued in 1914 assessed that of a Dublin population of 304,000, some 194,000, or about sixty-three percent, could be reckoned 'working classes'. The majority of these working classes lived in tenement houses, almost half of them with no more than one room to each family. Thirty-seven per cent of the entire working class of Dublin lived at a density of more than six persons per room; fourteen per cent in houses declared 'unfit for human habitation.'"
Moody/Martin/Keogh/Kiely, pp. 262-263, report that "Dublin had one of the most underfed, worst-housed, and badly paid populations in Europe. Twenty-one thousand families lived in single-room tenements. The death-rate at birth of 27.6 per 1,000 was higher than any other city in Europe (with Moscow second to Dublin)." They report on p. 263 that Marx, Engels, and Lenin all thought Ireland a very likely place for the Communist Revolution to begin. (They were, of course, wrong -- there was a revolution, but not that kind of revolution.)
Larkin's troubles with the British police were not entirely related to his union activities, though. Born in Liverpool in 1874, he stowed away for America in 1893 and was deported back to Britain. Becoming a dockworker, he was forced to join a union in 1901 -- and soon became so pro-Union that he was fired and became an organizer (Edwards, p. 111 note). He did not settle in Ireland until 1906/1907, when James Sexton (head of the National Union of Dock Labourers) sent him to Belfast to organize the dock workers there.
Larkin was a fine choice for the role. According to O'Connor, pp. 54-55, "Larkin was a remarkable orator and journalist who could lift the people from their knees woth a brilliant phrase. He had a voice that could carry across a prairie, and a towering, crag-like presence. His quivering face... became the symbol of hope to the downtrodden and hungry masses who listened to him."
Larkin did manage to bring many of the workers into a union, leading them on strike late in 1907. The strike turned violent, though some of the police sided with Larkin. With the union going bankrupt, Sexton settled without Larkin's agreement. Larkin therefore broke away from Sexton's group to form the IT&GWU in 1908.
Socialist in principles, Larkin was associated with James Connolly (1868-1916; for more on him, see "James Connolly") in the United Tramway Company strike. This turned into a lockout as William Martin Murphy, who was responsible for management bargaining, set out to destroy Larkin (Townshend, p. 48; O'Connor, pp. 55-56).
Larkin, who had spent a few weeks in prison before the government relented (Townshend, p. 49), rose to fine heights of oratory (when the Catholic hierarchy opposed his union, he declared, "They cannot frighten me with hell. Better to be in hell with Dante and Davitt than to be in heaven with [Ulster leader Edward] Carson and Murphy"; see O'Connor, p. 57). But strikers were starving, and the government blocked all attempts to help them (O'Connor, p. 56). Larkin fled Ireland after the strike fizzled in 1914 -- while Connolly stayed, and was one of the instigators of the Easter Rising. Larkin of course went to America, where he was imprisoned during a "Red Scare" in 1916 (O'Connor, p. 55).
Larkin came back to Ireland in 1923, to find that his own Union -- which was about twenty times as big as when he left home -- had no leadership place for him. He founded a socialist political party; though he eventually joined the Labour Party, he spent most of the rest of his life feuding with his old associates. Still, he was remembered by the people as a founder of the union movement.
Regarding his relations with other leaders, Kee writes (p. 198), "Subsequent dramatic events... have had the effect of making Connolly seem the major labour figure in twentieth-century Irish history.... But the fact that Connolly was to be cut off in his prime and win a martyr's crown in 1916, while Larkin, accidentally missing the heroics, was to live on to 1948 through years of Irish disillusion, political quarrelling, and personal identification with Soviet Communism, should not blind one historically to the other fact that it was Larkin who first effectively brought the old incoherent national emotions into Irish twentieth-century labour relations."
The song's description of fighting the Peelers in 1913 appears to be a reference to events of August 31, 1913. Larkin had been arrested for seditious libel on August 28, but was released on bail. He was supposed to speak in Dublin on August 31. He appeared in disguise, but it was clear it was him. Once the crowd started cheering him, the police attacked the crowd, resulting in one death and many injuries (O'Connor, p. 56).
This is not the only song about Larkin and 1913; Harte, pp. 32-33, prints a piece, "Dublin City, 1913" by Donagh McDonagh, which covers events of 1913 to 1916. - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.0
File: OLcM020

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.