Independent Voices, Indy Voices

Bob Crow death: A geezer with a Millwall scarf, but also a singularly effective unionist

 

Share

This geezer was the genuine article. A proper working class trade unionist with knobs on.

Bob had a thirst for life, for the labour movement and for lager. Shaven-headed, burly and blunt, he was straight out of a PR textbook: the bit on how not to do it. He once told me that he left the Communist Party because it was “too moderate”. He went on to join Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, but in recent years he eschewed membership of any party.

Those who imagine he was on the outer extremities of the Left should be aware that there were people on his union executive who made him look like a Liberal Democrat. When one of the devotees of the ultra-Left proposed a week-long strike to win a half per cent increase in a pay offer, Bob pointed out that the would-be striker would have to work for more than 50 years to gain the week’s wages he would lose by taking industrial action. The call to arms was dropped.

What surprised employers was Bob’s agility at mental arithmetic. As managers always work in percentages, they were often taken aback when he rejected a pay offer before they even put it on paper.

Bob was a card. One Friday night, when a First Great Western service was more than an hour late out of Paddington, Charles Harrison, the chairman of the company’s advisory board, went into the buffet and started serving free drinks to disgruntled customers.

 

A motorcycle courier arrived at company HQ with a warning letter from Bob advising Harrison not to take over the jobs of RMT members (who were also serving free drinks). Harrison replied that he was simply helping customers to cope with an unavoidable delay.

The next day, another courier turned up, with a letter from Bob and honorary life membership of the RMT.

Intelligent managers always knew that behind his cheeky chappie militancy, there was a wily trade unionist who was always prepared to negotiate. Sir John Armitt, then chief executive of Network Rail, told me that he could always “do business” with him.

Bob routinely wiped the floor with expensively educated Radio Four presenters. He was “sharp” – a word the educated elite sometimes use to describe intelligent working class people.

He played up to his Cockey geezer image as a way of intimidating employers. One HR director who invited Bob to spend a Saturday afternoon in the directors’ box at Leeds United received an invitation to Millwall on the Isle of Dogs – sitting down near the touchline where Bob and his mates roundly abused the ref and the visiting team. All good for the image, of course.

He wasn’t a bad cricketer, and often piled on the runs for the TUC general council against the industrial correspondents ahead of the annual congress.

On one occasion in Brighton he went in to bat against Stefan Stern, a diminutive journalist. With sleeves rolled up and clutching a bat which looked uncannily small in his massive hands, Bob took guard and saw a “Stern special” loop high into the air, taking some time to return to earth.

Bob wound his bat back in readiness to dispatch the ball across the English Channel. It bounced three times. Bob swung at it, missed, and the ball nudged the middle stump. A golden duck. It was the only time I saw Bob blush.

Amid all the anecdotes, it should be remembered that he was one of the most successful union general secretaries of his generation. Under his leadership, the RMT grew from 57,000 members in 2002 to more than 80,000. He will be a hard act to follow.

The writer is former Labour Editor and Transport Editor at 'The Independent'

Read more: He was from a time when union leaders used their industrial muscle
This trade union leader was different, rare and largely misunderstood
In praise of Bob Crow, Britain's trade union pantomime villain

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
In 1215 the Magna Carta forced the English King (at the time King John) to respect the laws of the land and guaranteed rights and protections to his subjects  

Magna Carta will be 800 years old next year – the perfect reminder of the rights and freedoms we must hold dear

Nigel Farage
David Cameron and George Osborne tour building works at Manchester's Victoria Railway Station  

There’s more to the Tories caring about the North of England than meets the eye

Chris Blackhurst
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there