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

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty