Any leader of a Trade Union gets abuse from those out on the right. Those who lead the Unions who represent transport workers get a lot worse. So was the lot of Bob Crow, who headed the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union from 2001, and who has died at the shockingly early age of just 52. Crow didn’t give a flying foxtrot about the stick. The ones handing it out weren’t his concern.
Bob Crow, pictured in 2012
Crow was elected leader of the RMT after the early death of Jimmy Knapp, who had led the union and its predecessor the NUR since 1983. The rank and file union members put him in office; his responsibility was to them. It was not to the endless succession of frothing and sneering pundits, Tory MPs, and other naysayers. He was there to serve the RMT’s members. This he did.
The results of Crow’s application to the service of his members were twofold: on the one hand, a welter of critics playing the man rather than the ball, carping about him enjoying good food and holidays abroad while still living in a council house, and on the other, a membership for whom he constantly secured good pay and conditions, and who loved him for it.
How good a union leader was he? Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was on the money when he said “He fought really hard for his members. The only working-class people who still have well-paid jobs in London are his members ... With the passage of time people will come to see that people like Bob Crow did a very good job”. Ken is not the only one taking that view.
Even London’s current yet occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was shocked at the news, and sincere in his tribute: “Bob fought tirelessly for his beliefs and for his members. There can be absolutely no doubt that he played a big part in the success of the tube, and he shared my goal to make transport in London an even greater success”.
And Crow’s work did not only involve securing deals for his members, as Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn explained: “I am very, very sad at the death of Bob Crow. He was a brilliant fighter for working-class justice and rights and a very dedicated opponent of racism and fascism whenever it reared its head. It was a pleasure to work with him on anti-war campaigns as well as railway and trade union issues”.
There will doubtless be much knocking copy aimed at Crow, even in death. But if those penning that copy had done a fraction of what their target achieved, they might reach a little closer to his ankles. They haven’t, and so they won’t.
And don’t let any of them make the mistake of assuming that the next leader of the RMT will be a soft touch. They made that wrong call after Jimmy Knapp died.