Bob Crow: You Ask The Questions
The Leader of the RMT Union answers your questions, such as 'Don't you think that £40,000 a year is a lot for driving a Tube train?'
Monday 29 June 2009
People say that you only went on strike because the bosses sacked some of your mates. Is that right? Chris Martindale, Brighton
I'm really glad you asked that Chris. That was the Big Lie during the strike, whipped up by the those who wanted to deflect attention from the core issue, which was the reneging on a deal on job security which we struck years ago. There's an old adage that if you're going to tell a lie, tell a big one. Our enemies surpassed themselves this time around.
If a strike helped your members but hurt Londoners, would you go for it? Craig Newman, London E14
We know very well the disruption caused by our members striking, Craig, and believe me we never take action lightly. But of course, we also know that there are times when we are pushed into a corner and it's either roll over and get trampled on or stand up for what you believe in. During the last 48-hour strike on Transport for London and the Underground, the tube bosses who'd provoked the action got an easy ride from the media even though it was their actions that had poisoned industrial relations. So yes, there are occasions when we are left with no option but to close down sections of the transport system, but it's always a last resort.
Is your job to get your members a fair rate, or the most you possibly can? Terry McKenzie, London N7
Terry, I don't see the two as unrelated. A fighting, campaigning trade union will always do the best that we can for our members, and that's the policy of RMT in a nutshell. As a trade unionist, I just wouldn't be doing the job the members elected me to do if I didn't go flat out to get them the best deal that the union can possibly achieve.
Summarise your political philosophy in five words, without saying "trade", "union", or "left". Mel Parkinson, Reading
Hasta la victoria siempre! There you are, just four words and in Spanish. It was one of the slogans of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and if it was good enough for him then it's good enough for me. It doesn't translate that well literally into English but roughly equates to "Forever onwards until the victory!" But why the banned words Mel? Are you from New Labour or something?
Does it worry you that so many working-class people like the ones you say you work for were so much against your strike action recently? Will Broughton, Chatham, KENT
Will, I'm not so sure that they were, despite attempts from the press to whip them up. The Sun even parked a double-decker bus outside my house with some bunch of clowns pretending to be TV reporters. I walked miles around London to get RMT's point across during the dispute, and encountered no hostility. It also remains the case that RMT is the fastest-growing union in the UK because we are known to fight for our members' rights, even in the teeth of an all-out assault by the right-wing press.
Do you support unofficial strikes like the ones at the refineries? Brian Cooper, Watford
The strike at Lindsey showed two things, firstly that the bosses are prepared to abuse European law to drive down pay and conditions; and secondly that the anti-union laws in this country can be defeated. RMT stood four-square alongside the victimised and locked-out workers during their dispute, and I spoke at a mass rally of construction workers on the Olympics site just a few weeks beforehand. The anti-union laws, designed to shackle workers with genuine grievances, are a disgrace and RMT is committed to fighting for their repeal.
Were you pleased with the tiny vote your NoEU – Yes to Democracy Party got in the European elections? Denise Davies, Southend
We came into the European election just a few weeks before polling day on the basis that someone had to raise the banner for the Euro-sceptic left. Despite a media blackout and a campaign run solely on the energy and commitment of our local activists, we got over 150,000 votes. In some areas of the country NoEU was the only force on the streets directly challenging the BNP. I don't regret for a moment that we stood and I am proud of what we achieved, and we have also sparked off a debate on the future of working-class representation in the wake of the collapse of New Labour.
Don't you think that £40,000 per year is a lot for driving a Tube train? Andy Poole, London NW6
No I don't. I think it's a fair wage. When I see what top bosses and premier league footballers earn, it puts it into perspective, But don't forget, Andy, that RMT is also fighting for tube cleaners on around six quid an hour to do one of the dirtiest and most unpleasant jobs in our industry. They have been denied the London Living Wage promised them by Boris Johnson. We fight for decent pay and conditions for all workers.
Are there any circumstances in which you would negotiate a no-strike agreement? Ian Ellis, London SW20
No way. Workers' rights are human rights and the most fundamental of those is the right to withdraw your labour. In a few weeks time we'll be down at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. Those brave men remain an inspiration for those of us still fighting on for trade union and workers' rights today.
Do you think it's wrong that you earn more than an MP, and twice what Tube drivers do? Nigel Watkins, London SE15
My pay is democratically decided by our union structures, and they award me what they think is right for the job and we've never had a single complaint. I know some MPs who support the trade unions and who work damn hard and who are worth every penny. The others we all know about.
What's the worst thing about your job? Philippa Priestley, Northampton
Nothing. And I'm serious Philippa. I consider it an absolute privilege to to be able to represent RMT members and to be able to work with such committed and energetic people as our staff and representatives. Genuinely, there is no downside and nothing else I would rather be doing.
What's the difference between you and Arthur Scargill? Roger Grayson, Manchester
I tell you what, 25 years after the strike everything that Arthur and the leadership of the NUM said would happen has happened – and it has ravaged working-class communities and the fascists have been out there preying on the wreckage. Arthur Scargill stood by his members and their communities in the teeth of incredible hostility and with all the firepower of the state lined up against his union. I'm proud you've mentioned me in the same breath as him.
If you were Chancellor, what would the top rate of tax be? Gavin Hooper, London N19
Whatever is required to fund public services and address the chasm between rich and poor in this country. The collapse of the economy was driven by people at the top of business who simply didn't give a toss. Of course, they should pay more to put right the damage they've left behind.
Are you prepared to publish your expenses claims? Barry Niven, London W6
My expenses and benefits are published annually by the trade union certification officer and are ratified by our AGM . No moats, duck-houses and what have you. Just what's required to keep Britain's fastest-growing trade union ticking over efficiently.
Apparently you've been nicknamed "Big Bad Bob" and "The Crowbar". If you could choose your own nickname what would it be? Helen Strickland, Croydon
I don't know where these nicknames come from. They are all invented by the press. Everyone just calls me Bob. I'm forever hearing, "Oy! Bob!" on the streets and black-cab drivers are the worst. I got so many of them bending my ear we had to set up their own section in the union. So, no, Bob will do just fine.
Have you got any posh friends? Mike Chester, Ipswich
Not that I'm aware of, unless they are keeping it very quiet. I'm mates with a few footballers and boxers but if you called them posh they would not thank you.
What would you be doing if you weren't a trade unionist? Wendy Harrison, Bedford
No idea. It's in my blood. Certainly wouldn't be a nightclub crooner though.
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