In the center of Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, stands a large statue of a man lifting up his arms, urging all onlookers to rise up. The man is James “Big Jim” Larkin. He enjoys the status of Irish folk here today based on his lifetime of fighting for the poor working class of Irish society.
An inscription on the pedestal below the statue reads: “The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.”
Jim Larkin was not born among the great – just the opposite. He was came into the world in 1876 in the brutal slums of Liverpool, England, where his Irish parents had immigrated to find work. What little work they found paid wages so small it would shock an Irish citizen of today.
Jim Larkin’s father died when he was 14, leaving the family in desperate straits. Young Jim had already been working as a child laborer while attending some part-time grammar school. But education had to come second to eking out a living.
It’s small wonder that when Jim Larkin reached adulthood – laboring hard on the docks of Liverpool – that he would become an avid union activist and be attracted to the rising tide of Socialist thought of the early 20th Century.
Despite being minimally educated, Jim Larkin had a natural gift for powerful public speaking and for inspiring men to stand up against wealthy elites that had oppressed them for centuries.
Scholars today rate Jim Larkin among the three most important men who shaped the Irish labor movement and for creating the relationship that exists to this day between business and labor.
Without the tumultuous, controversial and fiery lifetime of Jim Larkin, millions of people may have never risen from lowly positions of poverty to obtain better economic lives in a more just society.
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