by John McDonnell mp
Bob Crow’s death has come as a shattering blow to the RMT, the whole of the trade union movement and to the many progressive causes he supported. Loved by his members and respected across the transport industry, Bob’s most significant role was to demonstrate by example to every trade union member that the trade union movement could be as effective today in securing better pay and conditions of employment as at any time in its history.
From the 1980s, trade union membership and influence had been in decline for over 20 years when Bob came onto the national scene alongside a new generation of radical trade union leaders with Mark Serwotka at PCS and Matt Wrack at the FBU. They transformed their individual unions and created a new unionism, thoroughly democratic and willing to mobilise and back their members, no matter how hard the fight and no matter what the employers and media threw against them.
The result has been not just a reversal of declining membership, but a substantial increase in size of the RMT and its expansion into new sectors such as the offshore oil and gas industry, buses and taxis. People joined the union because they knew that Bob Crow would never shy away from a fight on their behalf and brought a tactical genius and negotiating skill to secure victory in negotiated settlements and, when necessary, in industrial action.
The 21st century trade unionism that Bob Crow espoused was rooted in a thorough understanding of what his members were experiencing every day at work. Improving their pay and working conditions was what he cared about and nothing would stand in his way of winning for them.
It also didn’t matter what the right wing media reported, as his members knew whose side he was on and every headline increased the profile of the union and, as a result, its membership. His trade unionism came from his socialism. In his stirring table thumping speeches he was able to inspire with a vision of a world living in peace and free from poverty and want. There wasn’t a progressive internationalist cause that didn’t receive his support, from Castro’s Cuba to Chavez’s Venezuela.
His legacy will not only be a strong and effective RMT but the reversal of the near terminal decline of trade unionism in this country and, of course, the next generation of young trade unionists that he inspired and who are now taking up his torch.