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The tragic death of Bob Crow – a great union leader

100869 RMT News Februaryalwc.pdf, page 3 @ Preflight ( 100869 RMBob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, has tragically died at the age of 52. According to a statement from the RMT, he died in the early hours of Tuesday morning. It has now been reported that he suffered a massive heart attack. He was rushed into Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone by ambulance at about 7am, but had suffered critical heart damage as a result of an aneurysm and could not be revived.

Plaudits have been pouring in from across the Labor movement and beyond, including from people with whom he clashed and people who strongly disagreed with his politics. Nick Robinson of the BBC reported that “Bob Cow was, some argue, the most successful union leader in terms of securing jobs and pay for his members”. Rob Williams at the Independent described him last month as “the most effective union leader in Britain today“. Kevin Maguire of the Mirror said “People loved how Bob Crow would call a spade a bloody shovel. In an era of political bland, he was a trade union leader who would tell it how it is and fight to the bitter end for railway workers.” Alistair Stewart of ITN tweetedBob Crow did, consistently, what he was elected to do – come hell or high-water. #RIP“.

The most important thing for which he will be remembered is what he delivered to his members. The RMT is growing and successful. One of the first to speak publicly after the news emerged, Ken Livingstone said of Bob Crow:

He fought really hard for his members; when you look at it, basically about the only working class people that have still got well-paid jobs in London are his members, everybody else has seen their wages and conditions and pensions eroded, he fought [for them] and he kept them, that’s why his members kept electing him, he looked after them.

We have had disagreements, because he was always pushing for more than I could actually muster… he was broadly right on most key issues he opposed – the invasion of Iraq and all those things – with the passage of time, people will come to see that people like Bob Crow are demonised in the right-wing press like the Mail and so on. He actually did a very good job supporting [his] members’ standards of living, if all working class jobs had been fought and defended in that way in the last 30 years during the Thatcher-Blair years, we’d be a much better country.”

Ken’s successor, Boris Johnson wouldn’t meet with him but agreed to pay tube workers up to £850 extra to work normally during the Olympics fortnight. Johnson said today “Crow was a fighter and a man of character. Whatever our political differences, and there were many, this is tragic news.” As Simon Jenkins, no friend of the trade unions, put it last month in the London Standard, his members “support him because he shows two fingers to the toffs, who cave in and give them more money.” Paul Mason tweeted a memory that “on night he was elected (2002) he refused to come on Newsnight, or even to phone, as was “down the pub” with RMT members“.

Tributes came from the other two rail unions. White collar union,  TSSA, tweetedBob Crow fought for his members with every fibre of his being. All rail workers are safer & more fairly treated due to his efforts. RIP“. Manuel Cortes, general secretary, said: “It was a privilege to campaign and fight alongside him because he never gave an inch…. Bob Crow was admired by his members and feared by employers, which is exactly how he liked it.” Train drivers’ union, ASLEF, said: “This is a sad day not just for the RMT and the rail industry but for the trade union and labour movement. It’s a tragedy that he was taken from us at such a young age. Bob always did his best for his members, and the transport industry.

Fellow general secretary of the CWU, Billy Hayes said “Bob Crow was a great leader he will missed by workers of the world“. The PCS described him as “The greatest trade union leader of his generation. A huge loss to our movement“. TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady said “Bob was an outstanding trade unionist, who tirelessly fought for his members, his industry and the wider trade union movement. He was always a good friend and comrade to me. We will miss him, and our thoughts are with his family and the RMT at this difficult time.” Len McCluskey of Unite said: “Bob was a life-long, and highly successful fighter for the interests of his members and for working people as a whole. I am sure that is the only epitaph he would have wanted.” Bob Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, said on BBC News:

Maybe some people didn’t like him or didn’t like the way he did things, but they admired the fact that he got them done. He was a champion, and he wasn’t just a champion in his own back yard: he fought the cause for people all over the country, and I tell you what: he was a stunning bloke, an incredibly unique character, and I’m grateful for my time with him.

I’ve had lots and lots of funny times with him: he was very good humoured, very witty, very clever, and very well-read. He was a real asset, and these last tube disputes, actually, when the media tried to get lots of travelling people to have a go about him about his holidays, most of the public came out, they said he was entitled to his holidays, he’s standing up for his members, he’s doing his job. He did his job really, really, really well.

He would laugh at that sort of emotive reaction: in some ways he prayed on it. He realised that people couldn’t match him for argument. He was a fierce debater; he’d come up through the ranks, this was not a boy who’d had a silver spoon put in his mouth at some college. This boy came up through the ranks, he’d done his work, he’d done his apprenticeships, and he believed that working men and women had a right to a decent life, a decent place to live, a decent future for their children, and decent living standards.

After all, what’s wrong with that? He was very well supported by his own members – he travelled the length and breadth of the country, he’d go from one end to another just to see a handful of members, to reassure them, and to stay in touch. I tell you something: he was a lot more in touch with what working people in this country were going through than Boris Johnson.”

From the world of politics, tributes have also been paid across the spectrum. Ed Miliband said: ”

Bob Crow was a major figure in the labour movement and was loved and deeply respected by his members. I didn’t always agree with him politically but I always respected his tireless commitment to fighting for the men and women in his union. He did what he was elected to do, was not afraid of controversy and was always out supporting his members across the country. He was a passionate defender of and campaigner for safe, affordable public transport and was a lifelong anti-fascist activist.”

UKIP leader Nigel Farage tweeted: “Sad at the death of Bob Crow. I liked him and he also realised working class people were having their chances damaged by the EU.” Respect MP George Galloway tweeted: “Bob Crow was a working class hero. That’s something to be.” John Spellar MP tweeted “Bob Crow died, never agreed with his politics,always got on with him as a bloke,and fellow Millwall supporter RIP“. Caroline Lucas tweeted: “Bob Crow embodied a bravery, passion & commitment that’s rarely seen today – a real loss to RMT & wider trade union movement“. Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, said:

Bob has been a tenacious advocate of the rights of members of the RMT. I’ve shared a platform with Bob: he has been a good friend to Plaid Cymru, having been a guest speaker at our party conference back in 2003 – the first UK trade union leader to do so. Bob’s emphasis on placing the needs of his members above all else – including and especially party politics – will be sorely missed. We need more like Bob Crow. He was fearless and would not back down in the face of frequent and unfounded attacks from the ‘right.’ He was also a firm and vocal opponent of the politics of austerity and was excellent at articulating that there is an alternative to the current, cosy Westminster consensus. He will be deeply missed by all on the left throughout the UK.

Bob Cow is reported as having said “I was born in a council house, as far as I’m concerned I will die in one.” It seems that he did. May he rest in peace.

For a selection of wonderful quotes, pictures and videos of Bob, please visit Huffington Post.

Image credit: RMT News

5 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    Shocked and totally saddened to hear this, the really last of the remaining few, my condolences to his family.

  2. John reid says:

    Terrible tragedy, all his a staff were behind him when we strikes, a great men, a real shame,

  3. David Ellis says:

    Sad and untimely news. The life of a trade union activist is a very stressful one especially when the union you are in is under almost daily bombardment. Always in the firing line particularly if you believe in what you are doing and not just milking a cash cow whilst waiting for a lordship. Bob was a believer. RIP and condolences to his grieving family at this awful time.

  4. Chris says:

    Sad to see him go, especially at only 52. Demonised by many of course, but that was because he was successful at what he did.

  5. Ruth Grace Vizor says:

    WHAT A SAD LOSS A TRUE INDIVIDUAL WHO HIGHLIGHTED THE PLIGHT OF THE COMMON MAN FAIR DAYS WORK FOR FAIR DAYS PAY BLESS ROB&FAMILY WELL EARNED REST PEACE AT LAST YOU DESERVED EVERY HOLIDAY TAKEN PITY YOU WONT ENJOY ANYMORE THE SYSTEM TOOK ITS TOLL ON YOU PEACE COMRADE
    RUTHGRACE VIZOR
    ruth.vizor@gmail.com

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