Bob Crow: A life of commitment
The TUC and the British working class has lost one of our outstanding leaders, Bob Crow, the General Secretary of rail and maritime union RMT, who died this morning.
Bob was committed. Whether it was the internationalism he showed through the International Transport Workers’ Federation and his many links around the world with dockers, seafarers and railway workers; or the stalwart opponent of racism and fascism on his doorstep in East London or anywhere in the world, Bob was passionate and determined.
His arguments were forcefully and consistently made, but that didn’t mean they lacked sophistication. Because he opposed British membership of the European Union, people who didn’t listen thought he was anti-European, but nothing could have been further from the truth. On international solidarity, he argued particularly that workers in one country had more in common with the workers in the same job in another country than with employers in their own.
Bob Crow stood up for working people. He demanded that they be respected and valued, and the many tributes paid by employers in the transport industry are testimony to his genuine love for rail. He demonstrated day in, day out, that the work people do defines us and gives us honour and value. He was unrepentant about wanting the best for workers, and he was unashamed, for example, about taking a holiday he was due. He had little time for circumlocution and was, partly as a result, one of the most recognised and recognisable trade unionists in Britain.
He was respected by those he faced over the negotiating table or the picket line, and admired by those he led and worked with. He knew what he was talking about, whether it was from personal experience and the experiences of his members, or from books and briefings. He was also genuinely and consistently funny, an ability he used to sometimes devastating effect in debate and on the TUC General Council. Despite being unshakeable in his arguments, he could disarm opponents as well as enrage them.
His commitment extended to every facet of his life. His family, whom he had to defend against a predatory media, and his beloved Millwall football club whom it would have been out of character and the spirit of the club to ‘defend’. (Their slogan “no one likes us, we don’t care” was often suggested as a personal credo for Bob.) And he was a demon bowler too, often the key player on the TUC cricket team.
Because as every trade unionist should be, Bob was a team player. No setback at the hands of a supposed colleague, no defeat in a vote at Congress or on the General Council ever shook his loyalty to trade union unity. Unequivocally on the left, totally on the side of workers not least because he was so viscerally one of them, and an unceasing advocate for the members who elected him time and time again.
Bob Crow was born in east London, moved to Essex as a toddler, left school at the age of 16 and worked on the railways for the rest of his life. His first job was on London Underground as an apprentice track worker, although he soon became involved in union activity, becoming a local representative for the then National Union of Railwaymen at the age of 20. Twenty years later, in 2002, he became General Secretary of RMT and he died today, aged just 52.