Jim Larkin is among the most famous of figures in the history of Irish labor relations, but his long and tumultuous career is one of many chapters. One of those fascinating chapters are the years he spent in the United States.
Larkin decided it was a good idea to get out of Ireland after his role in organizing one of the most disruptive and explosive strikes in Irish history – the great Dublin lockout of 1913. It was a painful defeat for Larkin after the strike of some 20,000 workers was finally crushed by the powerful ruling elites.
Jim Larkin fled to America in 1914. Writer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to know Larkin when he came to New York. She described him as “a gaunt man, with a rough-hewn face and a shock of graying hair, who spoke with an Irish accent.”
Larkin had paid frequent visits to Flynn’s mother and took tea with her often as the pair discusses ways to raise funds for the Irish Citizens’ Army. Larkin’s lifestyle in New York was hardly exotic or attractive. He lived in a tiny, rundown one-room apartment off an ally in Greenwich Village.
He didn’t have a lot of time to sit around in his shabby flat, however. Jim Larkin was a tireless advocate for his causes, or it should be said, a number of causes. In addition to agitating for labor unions, Larkin worked tirelessly to prevent the U.K. and the United States from getting involved in World War I.
He also worked to gather members for the Socialist movements that were gaining strength throughout the world, especially in Russia, where the Bolshevik Revolution would topple the centuries-old monarchy of that country in 1917.
While in New York, Larkin was hounded by American government agents who considered him a dangerous anarchist. Fear of socialism was rising fast during Larkin’s years in the U.S., and this made him an even larger target. He was eventually arrested and sent to prison for promoting “social anarchy” – but was later deported back to his native Ireland.
His years in America were a typical slice in the life of one of history’s most determined advocates for radical social change.