RMT general secretary Bob Crow died on Tuesday, aged 52, after suffering a heart attack.
A key figure in UK union history, Crow was well-known for the passion and energy he put in all his battles. His rivalry with Mayor of London Boris Johnson, with whom he had frequently clashed – particularly during the recent 48 hour tube strike – was also renowned. Most importantly, however, Bob Crow should be remembered for his achievements. He managed to protect the interests of his members and secure rail workers consistent wage raises, even during recession and austerity.
His public image of fighter at the helm of the battle was counterbalanced by his solid pragmatism. Behind the scenes, Mr Crow was indeed an intelligent negotiator who knew which battles were worth fighting for and when to settle.
Born in 1961 in London, he started his career in the railway at the age of 16 working on the underground. His association with the unions began at the age of 20, when he became local representative for the National Union of Railwaymen, and culminated in 2002 when he was appointed as general secretary.
His political views reflected his strong personality. A former member of the Communist Party, Mr Crow described himself as “communist stroke socialist”. An internationalist that, despite supporting the No 2 EU platform during the 2009 European Parliament Elections, claimed to be against EU, not Europe itself; and demanded that Europe had to do more to protect the rights of the workers.
His relationship with Labour party was complex. After the 2004 RMT ejection from Labour, Mr Crow openly criticised the policies of the party and argued that it was time to build a political alternative that could stand up for the interests of the working class.
He himself was often targeted by criticism. Some had questioned his choice of living in a council house despite the five figure salary he earned as RMT general secretary. More recently, the press openly disapproved his holiday to Brazil prior to the London Tube strike which caused concerns and stress in daily commuters.
Nonetheless, there can be no denying that Mr Crow constantly stood up for his members, asking for better pay and working conditions and achieving a lower pay gap than other industries, such as airlines, for instance. As argued by former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, RMT members are among the few working class people who, thanks to Crow’s negotiation ability, still have well-paid jobs. Under his leadership, RMT union also significantly increased the number of memberships.
Comments from other union leaders have emphasised Bob Crow’s passionate leadership and the legacy he leaves behind. Geoff Martin from RMT commented Crow’s death “with the deepest regret” and announced that the union’s offices would have been closed on Tuesday. Frances O’Grady, TUC secretary, commented the “shocking news” depicting Mr Crow as an “outstanding trade unionist, who tirelessly fought for his members, his industry, and the wider trade union movement”.
Article by Sergio Russo, HRreview journalist