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Tuesday, 01 April 2014 00:00

Bob Crow: Feared by the bosses loved by the workers

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Bob Crow on the march at Burston 2009 Bob Crow on the march at Burston 2009 Ben Stevenson

BOB CROW’S shocking early death on 11 March 2014 at the young age of 52 deprives RMT members of the most inspirational and effective leader in the trade union movement at a time when workers across the world face economic attacks and imperialist aggression to an extent not seen since the 1930s.

Marx Memorial Library mourned the loss of a firm friend, long standing member and supporter of the Library at our General Committee meeting in March.

Bob Crow’s family, friends and RMT comrades have been deluged by messages expressing solidarity, condolence and almost inconsolable sadness from workers’ representatives from Cuba to Iraq and all points in-between.

This was no media-concocted, emotional frenzy. Bob’s brilliance as a media performer, whether as a panellist on BBC’s ‘Question Time’ or his mercurial press conferences before each TUC Conference (the only events that hardened Conference hacks wouldn’t miss), was based on an instinctive, razor-sharp intellect and a direct honesty that got straight to the point.

He had no airs and graces. Not a trace of pomposity attached to him, and as anyone who had the privilege of hearing him address large meetings of trade unionists could testify his powers of communication were exceptional. I have not heard any trade union or political leader since Arthur Scargill at the peak of his powers, who could speak to an audience with the power of Bob Crow. On occasions I have seen him reduce audiences to tears of anger and uproarious laughter both at the same time.

Last year in September Bob was honoured to address SIPTU’s biennial conference in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House, on the centenary of the Dublin Lockout, the only British trade union leader to be invited.

Paying tribute to the men and women of the 1913 Lockout, Bob Crow apologised for the failure of British trade union leaders to support them at the time. However he paid tribute to the “rank and file members” of the National Union of Railwaymen who raised funds for Dublin’s workers and organised waves of unofficial sympathy strikes across the north of England and South Wales carrying out the call that Jim Larkin made to them.

Bob Crow had a deep respect for the history of struggle of the Irish working class and his great hero was James Connolly whose collected works had pride of place in his office.

In December last year Bob was pleased to see the publication of MML’s Desmond Greaves archive as ‘James Connolly and the Reconquest of Ireland’ by Dr John Callow, co-sponsored by RMT, GMB and SIPTU, which is a magnificent addition to the literature on Connolly and permits a great insight into the development of his thought following the Lockout.

The vast expression of grief and loss at his early death by class conscious workers and politically progressive people around the world are an acknowledgement that we have lost a true comrade of rare talent and power.

One of Bob’s greatest friends, John Samuelson, President of the Transport Workers’ Union Local 100, which organises New York public transport workers wrote:

“Bob’s death is a crushing blow to Britain’s and the world’s labor movements. He was without question the most important and profound voice for industrial unionism and the working class in the world.” This is a measured assessment.

The RMT he leaves behind is so much stronger than the one he took over in 2002 when we elected him our General Secretary. Although Bob Crow’s legacy will be felt around the world wherever workers organise, it finds its concrete expression in the pride, combativity and solidarity of his RMT members in the transport and offshore energy industries, which will go on from strength to strength.

As Bob told audiences on many occasions when embarking on struggles against job losses or pay cuts: “They say that fear is contagious. But there is something more contagious than fear. And I’ll tell you what that is. It’s courage!”

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