Bob Crow, the leader of the The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) died today at the Whipps Cross hospital, Leytonstone, London. Bob was a socialist who supported the workers he represented and got the best for them.
I was a member of the National Union of Railwaymen in my youth before it was merged with National Union of Seamen (NUS) to form Bob’s RMT union. I loved working at the railways before leaving to take a degree course at a Polytechnic.
Both of those institutions, the Railways and Polys, at one time in the very recent past benefited the entire population of the UK. Bob represented the kind of railway workers that I knew, worked with and enjoyed the company of at Paddington, Liverpool Street and Euston stations in London.
Bob’s recent actions leading his union in London reminded me of my days “on the railways’. I spent lunchtimes and evening shift breaks in the the workers’ cafe at Paddington in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was a white, lower middle class, southern and nervous Hampshire country boy. I met Sikhs, Afro-Caribbean people, people who had come from Pakistan and India, English, Welsh, Irish, Scottish people and went onto play cricket and music with many of them.
I travelled the Southall, Brixton, Kilburn – all around the wonderful London regions, being fed, talking sport and politics, learning about my own country through the expressions and observations of people – fellow railway workers – who had new and enlightening insights that I would never had got otherwise.
That was an aspect of British Rail from the inside that goes largely under-reported. It was an organisation that bonded people as well as enabling them to live decently paid lives. Although Bob was an underground railwayman, back then it was the kind of industry that bred Bob Crow and made him campaign and defend his members from the ravages wrought on decent working people.
You’ll read elsewhere how Bob, paid £145k for leading his union – a hugely stressful job and also a salary that a man of his skills could have trebled in the City. I also worked in the City and I saw people like Bob, from his background and with his combative attitudes, snorting cocaine, stamping (literally and figuratively) on their fellow workers and taking plaudits for being ammoral, antisocial and lead entirely by greed.
Bow Crow was lead by his union’s membership, and for their best. I am going to miss having leadership like Bow Crow’s in the staggeringly sloping landscape of modern industrial relations.
Bob Crow spoke up. Spoke out.
Many, many condolences to his family, friends and union members. Remember him next time you’re stuck queuing for a ticket behind some poor, confused and nervous tourist unable to find assistance because it was cheaper to sack the London Underground worker who could have provided it.
R.I.P. Robert Crow 3 June 1961 – 11 March 2014