Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/802/18266
Bob Crow: A great fighter for the working class
Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary
The Socialist Party is shocked and deeply saddened by the death of Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT).
The outpouring of grief and solidarity in response to his death confirms the major impact he had as a trade union leader - undoubtedly one of the best known - for his steadfast approach to standing up for his members.
Our thoughts are with his family. We also send solidarity to RMT members.
Where the Evening Standard once tried to portray him as the 'most hated man in Britain', commuters interviewed on the news paid tribute to his principles in standing up for what he believed in, and for those who elected him. Westminster and town hall politicians can only dream of such a tribute.
The RMT's February strike on London Underground was a beacon for workers suffering under Con-Dem austerity and fearing a precarious future.
Every attempt was made to undermine the union and to ridicule Bob - but the strike had huge public support.
The RMT took the battle to London Tory Mayor Boris Johnson, who has shown in his sick-making eulogy to Bob what depths of hypocrisy can be plunged.
Even the most anti-union papers had to acknowledge that the union forced an utterly arrogant and intransigent Johnson to the negotiating table.
That battle must be continued to a victory for the RMT against ticket office closures and job losses.
Bob's approach to building resistance was reflected in the RMT's founding of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN), giving trade unionists a powerful body in which to fight austerity and to build pressure on the TUC to call a 24-hour general strike, a campaign which Bob wholeheartedly backed.
Bob had just agreed to attend this year's NSSN conference on 5 July as a key speaker. Under his leadership the RMT was a tireless defender of trade union rights, alongside the PCS and the POA prison officers' union.
Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire gave Bob a fitting tribute: "in an era of political bland, he was a trade union leader who would tell it how it is".
This included on matters political. "Bob told me he favoured the formation of a new workers' party, I said he was doomed to fail."
Kevin will be proved wrong and Bob Crow will be vindicated. But Bob didn't just talk about these things with journalists.
Among RMT members and the working class he made the case for the building of a new mass workers' party.
Bob was due to be the lead candidate for 'No2EU - Yes to workers' rights' in the 22 May European elections and was a co-founder and steering committee member of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) since 2010.
Under his leadership two RMT conferences voted for the union to fully participate in TUSC, alongside the Socialist Party and others.
RMT members are among the workers and anti-cuts activists standing as council candidates in the biggest left-of-Labour challenge for generations.
Bob Crow always defended socialism as the necessary alternative to the rotten capitalist system. We often shared a platform with him, and he spoke at our Socialist Party annual 'Socialism' events on a number of occasions - including last November - receiving many ovations for his tenacious stance.
Among RMT members Bob had enormous respect and support for his uncompromising position of fighting in their interests, including fighting for renationalisation of the railways.
When the RMT come to the democratic process of electing a new leader we hope they choose someone who will honour Bob's memory by being a fighter for the working class, including for the establishment of a new mass workers' party with TUSC as a first step, for socialism and for international solidarity, as Bob was.
The affection for Bob Crow sums up the urge of the working class for a powerful, fighting leadership.
It is fair to say that if the entire trade union leadership was made up of fighters like Bob, or like Mark Serwotka and the left socialist leadership in the PCS, and other lefts in the trade unions, the battle to stop the cuts and kick out the Con-Dems would be in a much advanced state.
But in his passing, Bob Crow also reminds us of the strength of the British working class to produce such fighters. He will be greatly missed, but we will fight on.
Best tribute is to fight on
Tribute from John Reid, RMT London Transport regional council president and Socialist Party member:
I have personally lost a friend and comrade and the socialist and trade union movement has lost a great leader. I pass my heartfelt condolences to his partner and his children and grandchildren.
Members of the RMT loved him as a man who, along with other activists, rebuilt our union into a fighting trade union which was never on its knees and was prepared to fight and strike if necessary for our members.
He was a passionate socialist and Millwall fan and worked tirelessly for his members. He believed in building a socialist alternative to Labour and helped to initiate the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
At RMT conference in 2013 he opposed a resolution seeking to distance the union from TUSC, and the resolution was defeated.
Bob was also closely involved in initiating the National Shop Stewards Network in an attempt to rebuild the left fighting traditions of the trade union movement.
Our task is to honour our fallen brother by building the trade union and socialist movement.
The representatives of the ruling class in their obituaries have stated that the RMT has grown from around 50,000 members to just over 80,000 in the 12 years of Bob's leadership, bucking the trend of falling trade union membership.
Bob's brand of socialism and trade union militancy has been a resounding success resulting in thousands of our members receiving decent pay and conditions.
The RMT will continue to defend the traditions built by Bob and others, of building a union committed to socialism and trade union militancy.
Tributes to Bob have come not just from RMT members who have in their hundreds posted moving tributes and have put up notice boards at stations, but have also come in their hundreds from working class people in Britain and internationally.
A tribute on a QPR football site sums this up: "London has lost a son. Bob cared for the members of the RMT, didn't matter if you swept a platform, cleaned a tube carriage or drove the tube, Bob got those workers a safe environment to work in, a decent wage which led to a better standard of living for the ordinary man/woman...
I for one believe he was right to stick up for his members. Why should his members suffer for the mistakes of city bankers? ... RIP"
Stop press: Solidarity with John Reid
John has been suspended pending investigation following a complaint against him made while he was carrying out his lawful duties on the picket line in the February strike to defend jobs and ticket offices. John is president of the RMT's London Transport regional council.
- Please send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org
Miliband wouldn't share Durham platform with TUSC supporter
Ed Miliband has paid a somewhat mealy mouthed tribute to Bob Crow. An event in 2011 showed how he really felt about the man he calls "one of the labour movement's major figures".
Miliband pulled out of speaking at the Durham Miners' Gala because, according to a Northern Echo report: "union firebrand" Bob Crow, a TUSC steering committee member, had also been invited to speak.
Miliband's spokesman said: "the decision to invite Bob Crow onto the platform at the Gala means Ed is not able to attend this year.
"He doesn't want to share a platform with someone who is not a Labour supporter and who has attacked Labour many times in the past".
Miliband was set to be the first Labour leader to turn up at Durham since Neil Kinnock in 1989. Kinnock himself, followed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, broke the tradition of Labour leaders attending this celebration of working class solidarity in 1990, during the anti-poll tax movement, as part of the long march of transforming Labour into New Labour.
In 2013 - days after Miliband's attack on Unite over Falkirk - and for the first time in 115 years, there was not a Labour MP on the platform.
Bob Crow, in contrast, told the Echo that "it is the greatest honour in the labour movement to be invited to speak". Bob went on to call for a new party of workers when he spoke.
Watch the video on the TUSC website: http://www.tusc.org.uk/videos
Bob Crow was an inspirational union leader who tenaciously defended his members' jobs, pay and conditions - head and shoulders above most other union leaders.
Bob also recognised, well before most other union leaders, that the overlapping austerity agenda of the big parties meant working people have to start again and build anew.
As part of his legacy, on 22 May, TUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) will stand the largest number of left of Labour candidates seen in this country for over 60 years.
Dave Nellist, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition national chair
A few years ago I met Bob Crow. Our anti-cuts group was due to have a meeting at the RMT office. Unbeknownst to me, we were double-booked with the Medway RMT branch AGM.
I was coming straight from work at the hospital, running late and in uniform and when I burst into the room packed full of RMT members, listening to Bob Crow in full flow about the McNulty report. I was just like "oh, I'm from the anti-cuts group... have we double booked?"
Crow set the tone saying 'we should be honoured to be joined by our sister from the nurses' union'. He invited me onto the platform to address the meeting about NHS cuts and privatisation. What a legend!
Socialist Party members remember:
Rebel councillors join tributes to Bob Crow
The 'rebel two' Southampton city councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas have issued the following statement: News of the death of Bob Crow came as a huge shock to us, and so many people who knew and respected him.
He fought tirelessly for his members and for working people in Britain and across the world.
It was a privilege to work with Bob, who was tremendously supportive of the stand we took here in Southampton to represent the people who elected us onto the city council.
Early on in their stand against the Labour council's cuts Keith and Don were invited to speak to the RMT executive council and later, in June last year, to the RMT's annual conference.
They conclude: "We drew great strength from the personal example he set of tenacity, principle and belief in the working class, trade unionism and socialism. Bob will never be forgotten".
Tribute from Tony Mulhearn, Liverpool 47 and Liverpool Socialist Party:
Demonised in life by the right-wing media, in death Bob's qualities as a fighter for his members are now given massive coverage.
Bob displayed courageous and implacable opposition to the cuts policies of the Con-Dem government. He recognised that the Labour Party embraced policies little different from the Con-Dems and no longer represented the interests of the working class.
Bob will be sadly missed and difficult to replace at a time when working class leaders of such conviction are scarce. We send our deepest condolences to Bob's family at their terrible loss.
Len Hockey, branch secretary, Unison, Waltham Forest health branch at Whipps Cross Hospital
Members of Unison at Whipps Cross Hospital would like to pass on our sincere condolences to the family of Bob Crow.
He passed away at our hospital and we offer our full support and solidarity to the RMT trade union.
Members at the hospital, including porters and domestic workers, that attended meetings nationally and in Walthamstow, east London, at which Bob spoke over the recent years, have drawn encouragement and inspiration at the speeches Bob gave.
Bob's life and activity is an example for our class and our movement to emulate in the battles we must wage to defeat once and for all austerity, poverty, inequality and injustice.
Lois Austin, TUSC mayoral candidate for Newham:
Bob stood up for things that most people agree with - such as decent living standards for all and renationalisation of the railways.
Under his leadership the RMT, like the PCS civil service union I work for, fought for its members, refusing to bow down to the Tories or wait in hope for a Labour government.
The forerunner of the RMT, the Society of Railway Servants, founded the Labour Party. But today Labour is just like the Tories.
Today, the RMT is helping to build TUSC, which was backed by Bob Crow since it was founded in 2010, to get back the political voice for workers.
In July 2011 Bob was among the 10,000 people who took part in a march and rally in Derby, which called on the government to support Bombardier. I remember Bob speaking that day and he was the best speaker on the platform.
Chris Fernandez Unison rep, personal capacity, Derby
For some tributes in a leaflet format:
In The Socialist 11 March 2014:
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