Fitzpatrick, John (1870–1946), labour leader, was born 21 April 1870 in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, youngest of five sons of John Fitzpatrick, farmer and blacksmith, and Adelaide Fitzpatrick (née Clarke). Within a year of his birth his mother died, and by the age of 10 he had also lost his father, which ended his formal schooling as he was forced to go to work. In 1882 he travelled to Chicago to live with an uncle who died soon afterwards; he was again forced to go to work, spending three years in the packing plant of Swift & Co. at the Chicago Stockyards. A farrier by trade, he served out his apprenticeship and became a member of Local No. 4 of the International Union of Journeymen Horseshoers, where he was vice-president, treasurer, president, and (for five years) business agent. Becoming increasingly involved in the Chicago labour movement, which was riven by internal ideological strife, he took part in launching the Chicago Federation of Labor to combat what he saw as malignant influences within the existing bodies, and served (1899–1901) as its president before the nascent movement was captured by his opponents. After a bitter struggle, he was reelected to the presidency (1905) and held it for four decades till his death.
Under his leadership the federation gained a progressive reputation; he instigated radical attempts to recruit mass-production workers into the previously craft-oriented American Federation of Labour, to which his Chicago body was affiliated. Unlike most of his fellow labour leaders, he was deeply sympathetic to the cause of black and Slavic workers, whom he tried to organise; when Chicago garment workers went on strike (1910), he mobilised support and helped bring agreement. In 1917 he joined with William Z. Foster to organise the Stock Yards Labor Council, which he chaired. Packing-house workers, thus organised, forced the packers to accept a system of arbitration, although they could not secure union recognition. In 1918 he and Foster attempted the same approach on a national basis in forming the National Committee for Organizing the Iron and Steel Workers, which he also chaired. Despite widespread support among steel workers, the steel industry defeated the union in the great steel strike of 1919. Defeat in a national strike of packing-house workers followed in 1921–2, effectively ending the progress of mass-production workers unionisation until the New Deal.
Fitzpatrick was also involved in the political arena, and in 1918, inspired by the Labour party in Britain, began a similar movement in Illinois. He stood unsuccessfully for mayor of Chicago in 1919. He tried to broaden his movement and in 1920 set up the Farmer-Labour party on a national basis and nominated a presidential ticket. He stood unsuccessfully in the Illinois senatorial race in that year; successive attempts to draw progressive elements into an independent party proved equally disappointing. In 1923 communists, led by his erstwhile ally Foster, took over the party convention, leading Fitzpatrick to withdraw his supporters and abandon the idea of a national labour party. Thereafter he limited his role to serving as a labour leader in Chicago.
A powerfully built man, whose direct manner marked him as a leader of integrity rather than guile, he was deeply committed to the cause of the working man, frequently expressed Irish nationalist sentiments, and supported Irish trade-unionism. He died 27 September 1946 of a heart attack and was buried in Calvary cemetery, Chicago. Fitzpatrick married (1892) Katherine McCreash, a schoolteacher; they had one son. His personal papers are held by the Chicago Historical Society.