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Bob Crow: a reporter’s story

Bob CrowIt was just another average afternoon as a news reporter. I’d bagged a good story and was now waiting for the train back home. Suddenly I see Bob Crow along with other RMT activists waiting to board the same train. He’d only met me on a handful of occasions but he still knew me by first name.

Immediately he asked if I wanted to travel with him and his colleagues. I accepted and the next hour and a half flew by, with a mixture of hardnosed union politics, two beers each and laugh-out-loud comedy, much of it provided by Bob with his colleagues getting in a few friendly digs along the way. That was the measure of the man: politics infused with humanity.

The eloquent tributes from his members and even his enemies put pay to the totally ridiculous mass media depictions of him as a thug or some two dimensional dinosaur only interested in members interests. There is of course nothing wrong with defending members and advancing them when they are paying and mandating you to do just that.

But Bob was a passionate advocate of public transport (he didn’t own a car), a committed socialist and internationalist. He was soft spoken in conversation, never dogmatic, always keen to explain what he meant in a small amount of words.

In 2011 as the only nationally published journalist to report from the RMT AGM in Fort William, Scotland, I saw that on many issues, Bob was a moderate within his union. And although charismatic, he was not a one man show and didn’t want to be. None of the major nationals or press agencies were able to see the real issues that affected transport and maritime workers during that week.

Of course, plenty was being written about the RMT and particularly Bob himself at the time. The main issue was the gripping fact he’d gone out to dinner with his work colleagues in the week leading up to the conference and spent some money.

Shock horror. During the week in Fort William, the owner of the community hall where the conference was taking place reported to the RMT that journalists were ringing up asking how much the union was spending on booze and food during the conference, with seemingly little interest in the actual conference proceedings.

Being able to report on the conference was a lesson in union democracy, with active encouragement from the top table for delegates to disagree debate and not fear controversy.

That culture which Bob played an enormous role in building will hopefully be maintained following his untimely death. Although the tributes from his political enemies have been highly respectful so far, attempts to dilute what Bob Crow was are being promoted in two areas: that Bob was an effective yet solely “sectional interest” union leader and that he will be the last of his kind.

The tributes from Ireland to the USA, from Portugal to Pakistan, from Venezuela, Cuba, South Africa and Palestine, show Bob Crow was a fighter for justice, in the best traditions of internationalism and peace.

His major role in taking the RMT into the World Federation of Trade Unions with its emphasis on “class orientated trade unionism” was an act of high political significance.

Will he be the last of his kind? Only time will tell. But as he said when he addressed the Transport Workers Union of America’s conference last year: “Organised labour vs. organised capital. It is as simple as that brothers and sisters. Either we are stronger than them or they are stronger than us.”

John Millington is a freelance journalist and former industrial correspondent for the Morning Star

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