|Bob Crow; Class Fighter.|
by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
It was with terrible shock and sadness that I heard of the death of RMT general secretary Bob Crow this morning. This is a devastating blow first and foremost to his wife, children, family and friends, but also to the entire working class. And it's a tragically premature loss too, with Bob dying of a heart attack aged only 52.
Bob was born in north east London, the son of a London docker. In his youth he joined the railways, and as a young lad took up a grievance at work through his trade union (then the NUR) and rapidly gained notice as a capable speaker and organiser.
He went on to eventually be elected the general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) in 2002.
Bob was above all a passionate, tireless champion of working class people, their rights and conditions. I often witnessed - on picket lines and meetings I shared with him - the devotion he instilled from the ranks of the RMT. It was like a massive family.
He was demonized by the mainstream media - regardless of any begrudging hymns of praise they might now publish on his tragically premature departure from the class struggle that he dedicated his life to. But he won tremendous loyalty from RMT members, and indeed massive admiration from workers across the trade union movement. Many were wont to say "If only our union had someone like him leading us we'd be a damn sight better off."
Under his watch, the RMT membership rocketed from 53,000 to 81,000 in 12 years. For every vitriolic editorial in the London Evening Standard, Daily Mail or even the BBC, Bob's no-nonsense style of tackling the employers to enhance the wages, job security, safety and conditions of his union members inspired confidence in workers and built the strength of the union.
Enemies of trade unionism and socialism tried to denigrate Bob as "a dinosaur". But this big, burly, blunt-talking Londoner was no fool, and a man of great warmth and wit. When Jeremy Paxman issued the 'dinosaur' insult on Newsnight recently, Bob immediately quipped back "Well, they were around for quite a long time!"
Bob was a Young Communist, but whilst he was no longer in any political party for many recent years of his life, he vigorously denounced the betrayal of working class people by Tony Blair and New Labour, and called on other trade unions to stop propping up Labour and to establish a genuine working class party instead.
He successfully led the argument within the union for the RMT to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party, for which his union was expelled by Labour. I am proud to have worked alongside this giant of the trade union movement, and to have presented him with his SSP honorary membership card when he spoke at an SSP trade union conference I organised about ten years ago.
You didn't have to agree with every single aspect of Bob's vision of socialism to warmly like and admire him. He was in some ways 'a rough diamond', but give me that any day compared to the smooth-talking fakes that infest too many of the top echelons of the trade union movement. Bob's continued working class roots - in stark contrast to many union leaders who rise to the top and abandon the class they allegedly represent - were perfectly captured in his football loyalties. Not for him the glory-hunting of becoming, say, a Chelsea fan. He remained a fanatical fan of the entirely unglamorous Millwall FC - whose unofficial motto is allegedly 'nobody likes us and we don't care'. The difference, of course, being that hundreds of thousands of workers in struggle liked Bob Crow.
Bob was passionate and sincere in his beliefs. He was like a blunt instrument wielded in defence of the working class. He had a healthy antagonism towards big employers, the establishment, and politicians who defend the continuation of the class-ridden capitalist system. He never shed his class struggle socialist outlook on life - and RMT members are the better off for having such a leader in their midst.
Two of his very recent actions sum up the man's principles. He fought in defence of the safety and security of London Underground workers in the teeth of vitriolic attacks by London Tory Mayor Boris Johnson and whole swathes of the media. And he won rapturous applause from RMT members at branch meetings in Ayr, Aberdeen and elsewhere in his passionate appeal for members to vote for Scottish independence. In fact he was due to speak at a public meeting in Motherwell soon on the issue.
He will be sorely missed as the battles against poverty, inequality, injustice - and the capitalist system he detested - rage on.
Rest in peace, Bob; we will miss your dedication to the working class, but rest assured the struggle continues.