Bob Crow death: Politicians from all sides pay tribute to indomitable RMT leader

 

The death of Bob Crow, the iron-willed rail union leader who never shied from confrontation, brought him unaccustomed but warm praise from all political sides yesterday for his obdurate pursuit of better conditions for both his members and working people.

The 52-year-old general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union complained of feeling unwell on Monday evening at his home in north east London and was rushed to hospital in the early hours of yesterday. He suffered what is believed to have been a fatal aneurysm and heart attack.

The sudden death of one of Britain's best-known, most unflinching and undeniably successful union leaders was met with tributes from both supporters and adversaries who said the man equated by millions with a bygone era of union strongmen - and lengthy journeys to work during Tube strikes in London - had nonetheless defended the rights of his members with rare tenacity and skill.

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It was a measure of the ability of Mr Crow, who in his last media interview described himself as a "communist socialist", to stand out in Britain's centrist political landscape that much of the praise heaped upon him from figures ranging from Labour leader Ed Milliband to London mayor Boris Johnson was prefaced with phrases such as "I didn't agree with him politically but" and "Whatever our political differences..."

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "Bob Crow was admired by his members and feared by employers, which is exactly how he liked it."

 

The father-of-four, who was a favourite target of right-wing tabloids for his unapologetic stance on his six-figure RMT salary and his decision to live in a council house with his partner and their children, succeeded in securing starting salaries for London Underground drivers of £48,000 and saw membership of his union rise from 20,000 to 80,000.

Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor, reflected the shock of many. He said: "I assumed he would be at my funeral, not me at his. He fought really hard for his members. The only working-class people who still have well-paid jobs in London are his members."

Mr Livingstone added: "With the passage of time people will come to see that people like Bob Crow did a very good job."

Mr Crow, an East-Ender whose grandfather was a professional boxer, told BBC Radio 4 in an interview aired on Monday that he considered he was "worth it" when it came to his £145,000 pay package, pointing out that his members had received pay rises throughout the recession. He added that he did not like to be seen as "gobby, flash, arrogant" and instead preferred the label "talkative".

The union leader had recently clashed with Mr Johnson over a 48-hour walkout by Tube staff over plans to close ticket offices and shed some 900 staff. The London mayor had invited Mr Crow to his office for talks "and a pina colada" - a reference to a holiday in Brazil taken by the RMT chief shortly before the strike.

The London mayor said: "I'm shocked. Bob Crow was a fighter and a man of character. Whatever our political differences, and there were many, this is tragic news. Bob fought tirelessly for his beliefs and for his members."

Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose party expelled the RMT in 2004, said: "I didn’t always agree with him politically but I always respected his tireless commitment to fighting for the men and women in his union."

Others who expressed admiration for the union leader, while pointing out they were of a different political hue to Mr Crow - a lifelong supporter of Millwall FC whose famous chant is "no-one likes us, we don’t care" - included transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Sir Brian Souter, chairman of the Stagecoach transport group.

There was also consensus that the RMT general secretary, who started work for London Underground aged 16 and became a union representative aged 20, represented an old school of pugnacious yet strategically adept union leaders.

Labour MP John McDonnell said: "In Bob Crow, we have lost one of the finest trade union leaders and socialists our movement has known. I am devastated by this tragic news." Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil servants union, said Mr Crow represented the "very best of trade unionism".

Born in Shadwell and raised in a tenement with views of the Royal Mint before his family moved to Hainault, Essex, Mr Crow was described by his elder brother as a man who had held onto his beliefs with honesty and integrity.

Richard Crow, a share trader who said he and his brother had disagreed politically but remained close, told Sky News: "People moaned that he lived in a council house, that he never drove a car - he lived the life of the average guy in the street and that's a rare thing these days.

"When people have a high office in life they fall for the big trappings of the flash cars, the big hotels and big houses. But Bob wasn't like that, he was a genuine person of the people."

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