Sad To See You Leaving 2014: Bob Crow

by George_East on December 27, 2014

Bob CrowIf you fight, you might lose.  If you don’t, you will lose’.

He was one of the last authentic working class  voices to get an airing on the telly on political issues.  The media were almost relentlessly hostile to this principled old school trade union leader and were somewhat successful in portraying him as a dinosaur from an age when the Scargilasaurus and Jackjonesasaur roamed the earth.

Yet what this always missed is that it was not Bob Crow’s job to be palatable to the middle class Westminster Village with its pathological hatred of working class trade union leaders or even the ever-interviewed commuters who were affected by industrial action by tube or train workers of the RMT union that he led.  His job was to represent his members and to protect and where possible advance their interests.  And at this he was second to none.  If he was accused many times of holding commuters to ransom, mostly it was a ransom that was paid in one way or another.  As Crow said when asked if he felt sorry for commuters affected by industrial action of his members: ‘of course I feel sorry for them.  But they know our fight is not with them, it is with Transport for London.  And what do they expect a trade union to do.  If you join one you expect it to fight for your rights and your job – and that’s what I am doing’.

Crow was what he appeared to be – an East End boy, born and bred in Shadwell to a communist docker father.    He left school at 16 and worked his way up from a tea boy, through track repairing jobs before becoming a full time union official.

He used to tell the story of how his father taught him that you only needed to read two newspapers to understand what was going on: the Financial Times and the Morning Star (and that you shouldn’t believe anything you read in the FT).   His politics like his father’s were always to the left of the Labour Party, moving from the old ‘tanky’ CPGB through a number of left wing groupuscles like Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance and more recently the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition which has stood in various local, European and by-elections rarely gaining more than 1% of the vote.  Crow remained pro-death penalty and staunchly anti-EU throughout his political life.  He even had a bust of Lenin on the shelf in his office.

Yet despite these politics he was an effective and canny negotiator with transport bosses.  They recognised that he was able to carry most of his members with him and that without Crow there more difficult radical elements might take charge of the union.

Admirably, Crow was also keen to unionise and champion the rights of the lowest paid workers in the transport system, such as cleaners, many of whom had had their jobs outsourced to service companies and casualised.  This was not always popular with the relatively well paid train driver members of the RMT.

His abilities as a trade union leader was even recognised by the Daily Telegraph, who when Crow was under assault from the Daily Mail  for his salary (£90k, though reported in the Mail as £145k) , published a leader saying that he was well worth what he was paid given how effectiveness in fighting for his members.

The last 30 years have seen a smaller and smaller piece of the pie going to ordinary workers and a larger and larger chunk going to the top 1%.  A major cause of this has been the decline of the trade unions across workplaces.  One big exception to this has though been rail workers.

The left could do with a few more Bob Crows.  It is tragic that it lost the one it had at the young age of 52.

Battlin’ Bob Crow:  1961-2014 RIP

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