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.

Read more: Comment: A geezer with a Millwall scarf, but also a singularly effective unionist
Comment: Even Boris will miss him now he’s gone
Comment: He wasn't afraid to use industrial muscle
Comment: A modern union man who still fought for powerless

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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas