On the few occasions I met Bob Crow, I found him to be engaging, passionate, self assured, and unblinking in the face of those who opposed him, or his philosophies. That impression will be my abiding memory of a man who has proved consistently to be a polarising and seminal totem in terms of how he influenced the perceptions of the general public of trade unions, trade unionism, and the organised labour within railways and transport in particular.
The majority of obituaries, reports and articles will chronicle his flagrant militancy, unswerving suspicion of New Labour and the European Union, and his occupancy of council housing whilst earning a handsome salary, all whilst failing to communicate the true size of his contribution to the wider political debate, as well as to the lives of ordinary working people. The media paint Bob as a tyrannical union baron, a throwback from the 1970's with a fat bank account and a disdain for the travelling public. The truth is that he defended passionately the rights and safety of that very same travelling public in the countless campaigns he orchestrated and contributed to, and that whilst he may not have always made the right decision from an objective viewpoint in many situations, he was responsible for running the RMT union with an eye to reform, financial discipline, and a long standing programme of investment aimed at improving the services provided to RMT members.
Right wing politics prospers through the murky currency of fear, simultaneously acting as cheerleader and Master of Ceremonies for this feckless coalition's race to the bottom, and all the pain, suffering and paraded poverty befalling the working poor and the vulnerable as a consequence. Bob Crow was a thorn in the side of that coalition. He acted as a bulwark against that insipid race to the bottom, and the blind austerity that the regions are doomed to endure, devaluing the false currency of fear, and advocating an equitable alternative. His voice was one of a select few that could doggedly oppose the constant dilution of employment rights, and tightening of the screw of austerity, whilst still being allowed to reach the ear of the man and woman on the street.
He gave a voice to the militancy of the mind that is growing in reaction to the cruel ideologies of globalised corporations, and incompetent governments. The fact that the media, the London Mayor, the Government, and big business despise Bob Crow highlights starkly the untapped potential of the organised worker when represented by an efficient union which led by a man or woman with vision, energy and acumen. It also highlights the embedded fear held by the establishment of this untapped potential. I am a proud member of ASLEF. We consider the RMT to be our sister union, even though there has been no shortage of territorial struggles between the two over recent years. Despite these trivial disagreements, I resolutely believe that the shock and rawness of Bob Crow's untimely passing will give way to a legacy of hope.
For 12 years, the assembled firepower of the right wing media has pounded Bob, as well as the ordinary workers he represented with every lie they could muster. The sum total of these efforts has not been the decimation of the RMT, or the weakening of the transport unions. It has been a handful of childish taunts about salaries, strikes, and holidays in warm places. Bob's continued occupancy of council housing provided right wing bile-fodder for his opponents, yet only served to expose the thirst of Tory MPs, zealous neo-liberals and gutter press editors to oversee a transformation of affordable housing into ghettos for the poor and disenfranchised. He drew the fire of the most vicious opponents of trade unionism, and never flinched. He walked tall and stayed true. Whether or not you agree with his every political opinion, and I do not, it is fair to say that Bob exposed the anaemic nature of the opponents of trade unionism, and the panic felt by the establishment at their impotency in the face of a growing appetite for equity, social justice, and machineries of state that serve the needs of people and passengers, not hedge funds and profit.
For those of us who invest so much in advocating the need for an alternative, in speaking up for those rendered silent by a cruel and elitist parliamentary coven, it is vital that we take on board the legacy that Bob leaves. The hatred shown towards him by the establishment has achieved nothing other than a few small propaganda victories. It is vacuous. We must continue to engage people in order to help trade unions grow across every sector of our economy, despite the best efforts of the government. We must be unswerving in our opposition to NHS sell offs, to cuts and expansion of automation and casualised labour. We must be relentless in highlighting the cruelty of welfare reforms made solely for the placation of political donors and headline writers.
Whether people like or loathe Bob Crow, his contribution to the industrial and political demographic cannot be diminished by partisan bias. Keep that contribution alive. Join a union. Fight for your rights as a worker deserving of respect and equity. Push for the alternative.