When many people think of Ireland, the labor movement is probably not the first thing that crosses their minds. In many parts of the world mentioning Ireland will often cause people to draw associations between the Western European island and its folklore.
People will often think of popular legend of the leprechaun, figures from Irish folklore that were believed to have devious motives, be small in stature and to have pots of gold that could be found at the end of rainbows.
When other people think of Ireland they might also think of Saint Patrick’s Day which is celebrated to commemorate the death of a Christian missionary who is the patron saint of Ireland and who is believed to have accomplished miraculous feats such as driving snakes off of the island and owning a staff that after being stuck into the ground grew into a tree.
While Saint Patrick’s Day, folklore and leprechauns are parts of Ireland’s cultural legacy they are small parts of a much larger historical narrative of the country.
There is much more to Ireland than little men who give people gold and who wear the color green. Ireland actually gave the world an important figure who helped to shape the labor movement in Ireland and arguably around the world.
James “Jim” Larkin, is a prominent labor rights leader, who was born to Irish parents in England during the late 19th century.
Learning about Jim Larkin is important because it can be very easy for generations of people who grew up with labor protections and rights being commonplace to forget that the policies and regulations that make work environments safer for employees, especially employees who engage in physical labor did not always exist.
In societies where upward mobility was restricted for people that were born into poverty many people were forced to take jobs that often forced them to work in difficult or dangerous conditions for less pay than they deserved.
People who took these jobs were expected to work long hours that left them exhausted and had no guarantee that after years spent offering vital services to a company that they would no longer have to work in their old age and could be certain that they would still be taken care of.
Jim is famous for being a labor leader that worked to change conditions like these. He is known for coining the popular slogan: “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.” He also founded labor unions that advocated for employers to meet conditions that are fairly standard today such as an eight-hour work day and pensions for workers that reached the age of 60.
Learn more about Jim Larkin: