Jim Larkin is a legend and folk hero in his home country of Ireland, but fewer people know that this pioneer of the Irish labor union movement was also the co-founder of the American Communist Party.
It was in 1914 that Larkin decided it was time to get out of Ireland after the tumultuous events of the infamous 1913 Dublin Lockout. This was a massive union strike of more than 20,000 workers against some 300 employers.
The conflict was long, often violent and tested the people of Ireland to the core. It ended in a victory for Big Business — although the long-term effect of the Lockout had lasting positive effects for the cause of labor and the urban poor.
In the aftermath of the painful strike, the situation was rife with danger. Larkin wisely choose to flee to the United States as the dust settled. But that didn’t mean Larkin planned to meekly hide and bide his time while in America.
He immediately began seeking out contacts he had with other communists, socialists and union advocates in New York so that he could continue his life’s work.
Larkin teamed up with Ben Gitlow, a prominent American socialist and author of the book, “I Confess.” Ironically, Gitlow would go on to become one of America’s most vehement anti-communists after becoming disillusioned with his early life of radical politics.
Unlike Gitlow, Jim Larkin never wavered from his belief in the precepts of socialism — though he famously rejected the Russian brand of communism in favor of a purely Irish cause — a focus on uplifting the lower class workers who had been exploited by the powerful elite for centuries.
His work in America landed him in prison, however. Almost from the moment he set foot on U.S. soil in 1914, Larkin was being closely watched by both British spies and American federal agents who were already deeply paranoid about the growing communist movement in Europe.
Larkin was arrested for agitating and promotion of “social anarchy.” He sent to Sing Sing Prison where he served three years until he was pardoned and deported back to Ireland.