"Who will replace him?"
These were the words that a colleague in education spoke when he heard about the sudden death of Bob Crow. Not an administrative enquiry, a question concerning who will put their name plate on his office, and who will take his place at meetings - no, this was in deeper meter, resonating with the feeling that "they don't make them like him any more".
It is no surprise that leaders of all political parties have come to praise him, nor that all have tempered their words and been careful to point out their differences.
Paul Kenny, head of the GMB, for example: "Even people who didn't like what he did agreed he did it very well." Boris Johnson was one of those, who, having commended Crow's character had to add, "Obviously I didn't always agree with what he had to say..."
Here is the testament to the man: in a world where profit is king and the market forces everyone to bow, Crow stood out as someone who was prepared to make a stand, a stand that, deep down, people knew was right and just. That stance can be summarised quite simply: fair reward for fair labour.
The worry I have is that even the sniff of this stance can now be interpreted as somehow being 'anti-business' 'militant' or, God forbid, 'socialist.' It's a worry because its scent means that we have been entirely won over by the view that the captains of industry are right to focus only on maximising profits, regardless of how those profits are generated. It's a worry because we now have a Labour party (take a moment to reflect on the origins of the name) is doing all it can to weaken ties with trade unions and make itself attractive to big business.
This, we need to note, is in a season when pay awards for managers are spiralling again, whilst pay for those producing the profits stagnates. One does not need to be a paid up member of Karl Marx Inc. to affirm that there are serious problems when those whose labour creates wealth are totally disconnected from the manner in which that created wealth is distributed.
This is why I am still a proud member of Trade Union. Not because I am militant. Not because I am anti-business. But for the simple reasons that people matter more than profits, and that organisations should be called to account for how those profits are generated and distributed.
And over the years these unions have been hugely successful. They have won battles for equal pay. They have won battles for healthy and safe working conditions. They have won battles to ensure that those who are pregnant or new parents are given time. They have won battles for fair pensions and against discrimination. And in each of these battles they have been opposed by those in power who worry only about driving costs ever downwards.
The question 'who will replace him' should be a clarion call to each of us who works to redouble our efforts to keep the Trade Union movement alive and kicking. Not as a way of bringing down the economy, but as a way of uniting those at the bottom to stand together to force those at the top to make sure that they don't see people as parts to be replaced.
In the industrial age of mechanisation, the Trade Unions successfully fought to stop men and women being seen as mere machines. In this age where profits are all, the battle is to help those in power see those who work for them as more than figures on a balance sheet.
Crow will be missed by many, especially those in the RMT who benefited from his utter commitment to them as people who deserved fair treatment as reward for fair labour. He unfortunately leaves a Trade Union movement that is in danger of being weakened by unquestioning acceptance of the perverse logic of capitalism. With the recent economic crisis, so many workers accept their lot without comment: frozen pay for them while others enjoy huge bonuses, longer hours and diminished benefits because there are others who will gladly accept the work.
The best memorial to Crow will be galvanise the power of social networks to engage all those who labour and draw them, in this digital age, into new unities. We have seen this happening already in the success of campaigning sites such as Change.org. What we need now are to see them work effectively to rebalance our economy, to stop the gap between richest and poorest widening.
Who will replace Crow? Perhaps no one person. Instead, in the spirit of unity, all of us should.