The sad news of Bob Crow’s death is a deep shock to trade unionists and socialists everywhere.
Socialist Worker sends its condolences to his family and to all who knew him.
The general secretary of the RMT rail and maritime union was hated by the Tories, the media—and many in the Labour Party hierarchy.
That’s because he unashamedly stood for wielding class power in order to extract as much as possible from the bosses.
He also openly described himself as a socialist who wanted to have a world without gross inequality and exploitation.
The media pretended to attack him for his “champagne lifestyle”.
The real reason they hounded him was that he was far too effective for their liking.
It was the grossest hypocrisy for London mayor Boris Johnson, engaged in a continuing battle with the RMT, to praise Bob after his death as “a fighter and a man of character”.
Crow didn’t concentrate just on British trade union matters.
He was active in the Stop the War movement against wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a long-term supporter of Palestinian rights.
Born in east London, Bob Crow left school aged 16 and worked for London Transport.
He soon became interested in the union and rose to become a national officer and then the assistant general secretary in 1991.
In 2002 he was elected as general secretary as one of a series of left wingers elected to high union office who became known as the “awkward squad”.
The Financial Times newspaper commented at the time that his election “will send a shudder through Downing Street and increase the unease within Labour at the resurgence of the left in union politics”.
Earlier Socialist Worker had revealed that a senior official at the TUC helped to orchestrate a campaign aimed at stopping him winning.
A leaked document described him as “a fanatic who already holds a key post as assistant general secretary”.
It continued, “We have to prevent a takeover of the union by extreme left wing fundamentalists.”
Under Crow’s leadership, most RMT members saw their conditions protected or improved—unlike many other workers.
Politically Crow was a member of the Communist Party for many years, then Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance.
More recently he took a leading role in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which the SWP supports.
The RMT was expelled from the Labour Party in 2004 for daring to support some socialist candidates outside it.
Left wing union leaders can make a difference.
Crow’s willingness to call strike ballots and to use his members’ industrial strength gave confidence to RMT members to fight.
It was quite common to hear trade unionists who were not in the RMT say, “I wish we had Bob Crow as our leader,” or “I wish I could join the RMT”.
But Socialist Worker has always insisted that what matters is rank and file strength and organisation.
This can overcome right wingers, help turn speeches into action, and act independently of even the best union general secretary if necessary.
The best tribute to Bob Crow would be for us all to support the left against the right, to push union leaders to strike hard and to coordinate action, and to redouble our fight against the bosses and the Tories.