In modest praise of… Bob Crow, RIP

If Bob Crow had had an Irish double in the trade union movement he would have found a way to duck any sort of social partnership that limited his capacity to negotiate for his  members, and shrug off the inevitable offence taken by his union colleagues.

He kept it simple. He was out for everything he could get for his members, and as much as it caused officials in rival unions to grumble into their pints at the bar at each Trades Union Congress, it’s also how he doubled the RMT’s membership in the twelve years he was in charge.

As Paul Mason recalled this morning not long after the news broke, he was not afraid to tell the media where to go in favour of his flesh and blood comrades:

Flesh and blood that Brendan O’Neill translates to good old fashioned Marxist materialism: “he believed in improving the material wealth and comfort of working people”. In his own estimation he was good for that £145,000 salary because he brought home the bacon for his members.

And if he lived in what is now euphemistically called social housing (a by product of the rolling back of fair rent housing to almost zero in southern England) it was because there was (and is) no shame in choosing to continue to live amongst the people with whom he’d also grown up.

A far cry from today’s political norms. As Will Hutton noted at the weekend, director level salaries can run up to 150 times the average wage:

Only 25 years ago the average multiple in British business was around 35 times, and plainly British business performance is not four times better now than it was then.

But Crow also understood that fair pay and equity in housing don’t arise from top down Fair Pay codes. O’Neill again:

…he was actually fairly popular, despite his stoppages of the Tube, because his talk of pay and conditions, actual real material things, connected far more with ordinary people than other Leftists’ insistence that we make do and mend and curb our materialistic urges.

Ironically, it was the nature of his own power base in London and in particular the dependence of wealthy finance houses on his member’s trains which gave him a degree of leverage in negotiations that has become vanishingly rare these days. But then any old fashioned materialist union man would always look for his leverage points any way.

Our job is to represent working people. Management is refusing to negotiate. We either accept that or do something about it.

Bob Crow, Left Foot Forward

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  • Comrade Stalin

    I know very little about Bob.

    But 52 isn’t old.

  • Charles_Gould

    The RMT was I think previously led by Jimmy Knapp – who was also a great trade union leader – who died quite young too.

    I am glad to see Bob getting the praise he deserved. He negotiated effectively for his members, and was pragmatic. They earned much more than would have been the case had their pay been left to the market.

    Some people complain about the high pay of the train drivers. But in a world when wages are being pushed down by capitalism, the trade unions deserve credit when they push them up, and Bob Crowe leaves a positive legacy in that important regard.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Go Comrade Charles. Who do you think pays for the increased wages of the train drivers ?

  • Red Lion

    I always enjoyed listening to Bob Crow. Not just because of the content of what he said, often though provoking, entertaining.

    But I also loved his accent-that working class London accent which I noticed a couple of his trade union pals of similar age on the news today had similar. It seems to be fading out.

  • aquifer

    People getting paid for delivering a world class public transport service.

    What is not to like.

  • Mick Fealty


    Fat cat Bankers, and Boris Johnson (who was lifting 150k a year for his Telegraph column he was nearly always late filing when I was there)? I should have mentioned he was always good for making a deal. A functional version of Arthur Scargill.

  • DoppiaVu

    Hmmm…let’s not forget that because of him holding the travelling public to ransom, the travelling public is now perfectly comfortable with the idea of unmanned stations and driverless trains. There will be little sympathy for those that lose their jobs as a result.

    Not a good long term outcome, I’d have thought.

  • Mick Fealty

    Good point, there’s quite a bit ‘restaurants at the end of the universe’ about it. The point being that systems need to be stressed and driven by more than market demands.

  • Rory Carr

    “Good old fashioned Marxist materialism,” as Mick calls it, can not be reduced to successful wage negotiations by trade union leaders.

    Marx’s materialist philosophy differs from the rather crude materialism of the natural scientists who considered that feelings and ideas are sufficiently explained as results of chemical bodily processes, and “thought is to the brain what urine is to the kidneys.” His materialism rather is rooted in the very real conditions in which mankind strives to exist and develop.

    Marx described his own historical method very succinctly: “The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the reproduction of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather, it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.”

  • sean treacy

    Mick, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know Bob did not share your anti Adams obsession,He was listed to speak alongside Gerry and Mary Lou at a Connolly conference in America this week.

  • Alanbrooke

    Mr Fealty

    a post about a chappie from London, but none about our local gold medallist. We could at least say congratulations.