It’s been a grim time. Just heard the news about Tony Benn. Much more unexpectedly, Brother Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT, and another man the media hated, died of a heart attack aged just 52.
Bob was elected in 2002 and under his militant leadership the union grew from 60,000 to 80,000 members at a time when other unions’ membership levels were declining. He was one of the most energetic and devoted union leaders of his generation, always putting the interests of his members and the working class above his own.
Unscrupulous employers, politicians and their sycophant media have hypocritically paid grudging tribute to a man “who stood up for his members”. Everyone wants to be your friend when you are dead. When he was alive, these self same characters vilified him as they justified the attacks on jobs and services Bob and the RMT were fighting to defend.
We rarely, if ever, see similar attacks on union leaders who are quick to do a deal at the earliest stage, leaving their members in the lurch but ensuring a quiet life for themselves. Only a few weeks back Bob Crow was leading a strike over the attempt to cut 900 jobs from ticket offices on London Underground.
Smear campaigns were run against him in the right wing media but the union received huge support from the travelling public. People were beginning to see through the lies and the propaganda as they realised that Bob Crow was fighting to defend the services they rely on.
But it wasn’t just in major disputes that Bob put his members first. Many years ago a colleague told me how he lost the top of his finger in an industrial accident when he was working on London Underground. The solicitors were recommending acceptance of a compensation offer that was inadequate. No help could be got from the union’s officials but a young shop steward took up the case. A satisfactory offer was eventually made after the steward’s intervention. That young steward was Bob Crow.
It didn’t matter if it was a day-to-day bread and butter issue or leading a strike to defend jobs and conditions and the safety of the travelling public, the interests of the members and the wider working class always came first.
Most members of the LRC and readers of Briefing will have a different perspective to Bob when it comes to some political issues. He was never a member of the Labour Party and, under his leadership, the RMT was expelled from the Party for supporting candidates from the Scottish Socialist Party in elections.
He led a walkout at the TUC when war criminal Tony Blair came to speak; and Ed Miliband disgracefully refused to attend the Durham Miners Gala and speak on the same platform as Bob Crow a few years back.
While most of us would share his utter disgust at the behaviour of New Labour in leading the country into an illegal war in Iraq, not to mention the slavish kowtowing to big business and the billionaires, we would rather have had Bob and the RMT standing inside the Party – fighting to return it to its working class roots and the kind of policies that will re-engage with the millions of working class voters that old New Labour abandoned.
We would rather have had them with us at the Special Conference that saw leaders of affiliated unions voting to weaken union representation further. Those who voted for the quiet life could certainly do with some of Bob’s heart and backbone.
But that was another quality of the man. He still spoke on LRC platforms and the RMT provided practical support in numerous ways. Genuine comrades and brothers and sisters will inevitably have different views. However, unlike with the self seekers, those differences do not degenerate into petty personal feuds.
We fight shoulder to shoulder on the issues that unite us. Joe Hill’s last words were most appropriate: “don’t mourn, organise!” Rebuild our unions at a workplace and local level, fight for a leadership that puts the members first. That would be the best way to pay your respects to Bob.