RMT elects Crow to fight for nationalisation

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Bob Crow, a strident left-winger and harsh critic of Tony Blair, was elected the new leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) yesterday.

Mr Crow won a three-way contest to succeed Jimmy Knapp, who died last year. He polled 12,051 votes, compared with 4,512 for Phil Bialyk, the union's Bristol-based regional official, and 1,997 for Ray Spry-Shute, the union's education and training officer.

Mr Crow, who has been assistant general secretary of the 60,000-strong union for seven years, is a firm believer in the benefits of industrial action as a means of advancing the interests of the working class and spiking the guns of New Labour. Disruption to the lives of commuters is seen as collateral damage.

He was among those at the top of the RMT recently who were most keen to confront South West Trains in the battle over pay and the alleged victimisation of union activists. A former Communist, Mr Crow has also been a member of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party.

Whereas Jimmy Knapp, who died of cancer last summer, was seen as a union hardliner in the popular imagination, Mr Crow is well to the left of him. Mr Knapp was essentially a pragmatic trade unionist, whereas Mr Crow is an idealist.

Recently Mr Crow accused "certain employers" of hiring thugs to beat him up. The RMT man was attacked at his home in the early hours of New Year's Day by men wielding an iron bar. He was left unconscious for two hours. Detectives have accepted that the assault was premeditated but have yet to find his assailants.

The RMT leader's critics in the union believe his accusation of company involvement in the assault hints at paranoia but even his opponents paint a picture of him as an affable workaholic with a good sense of humour. "He likes a laugh and a drink. He's a typical East Ender – apart from his politics."

Mr Crow, 40, believes that rail companies have every reason to fear his views. He will not rest until the whole industry is taken back into public ownership and his critics in the union believe he will use industrial action to achieve it.

In his campaign literature, Mr Crow said: "The railway cannot operate properly on a fragmented basis with more than 3,000 companies alone registered with Railtrack. Renationalisation of the whole industry is my aim."

In an article published in the New Statesman magazine that will disturb rail businesses, ministers and commuters alike, Mr Crow states: "The RMT now has to battle with dozens of employers up and down the country to win better pay, and to protect terms and conditions of employment. The union looks to the Government to protect our members on the big issues such as employment legislation and the reversal of the catastrophic policy of privatisation in the transport industries. If the Government will not fulfil our members' hopes then we will have no alternative but to do battle with the Government too."

Mr Crow's accession to the RMT leadership adds another union general secretary to a left-wing alliance that includes Mick Rix of the train drivers' union Aslef; Billy Hayes at the Communication Workers Union; and Andy Gilchrist of the Fire Brigades Union. All heartily loathe New Labour. The Government fears Mr Crow will choose to take on New Labour in the run-up to the next general election at a time when strikes on commuter lines could well lose the party votes.

Much of Mr Crow's original support came from the days when he was a track worker with London Underground and championed his colleagues' concerns within the National Union of Railwaymen, the forerunner of the RMT.

From the age of 24 he began to hold union branch posts and by the early Nineties had been voted on to the RMT national executive, becoming chairman and a member of key sub- committees. Mr Crow is married with three children and lives in Woodford Green, Essex.