Bob Crow: He was one of a kind, from a time when union leaders used their industrial muscle

Though never shy about arguing his case in front of the public, he did not let himself to be distracted by the possibility that disruptions were giving unions a bad name

Share

If Bob Crow was a villain, he was an appealing villain. Or if he was a hero, he was a hero from a different age, when union leaders used their industrial muscle, regardless of the effect on everyone else. There was a hit song by the Strawbs in the 1970s that went “You Can’t Get Me, I’m part of the Union”, which was meant to be a dig at the hubris of the union bosses, but which they happily adopted as an anthem. Being in a union back then meant better wages and conditions, and if other people were inconvenienced by union militancy, that was their problem not the union members’.

It was the kind of mindset that Bob Crow encouraged in the RMT, one of the few unions that still used industrial muscle to wring concessions through industrial action.

Read more: RMT Union leader dies of heart attack aged 52
This trade union leader was different, rare and largely misunderstood
In praise of Bob Crow, Britain's trade union pantomime villain

In that respect, he was completely single-minded. Though never shy about arguing his case in front of the public, he did not let himself to be distracted by the possibility that disruptions to public transport or his own combative personality were giving unions a bad name, or creating political problems for the Labour Party. He disaffiliated the RMT from the Labour, and was involved in desultory efforts to create a political party further to the left.

And yet, his death is one of those rare events that come as a genuine shock even to those who are in the news business.

When I last saw Bob Crow, less than five weeks ago, he looked for all the world like someone who was going to be around giving the transport bosses trouble for many more years. The occasion was a press conference held at TUC headquarters after he had been photographed by the Daily Mail sunning himself in Brazil when his members were about to come out on strike again.

The union official chairing the conference made a vain attempt to impose a rule that all the questions were to be all about the industrial dispute, and none about Bob Crow’s holiday, but Crow himself was too smart to think that line could be held in front of a room full of predatory hacks, and at the first mention of Brazil, launched into a spirited and witty defence, which included flourishing a page from the travel section of the Daily Mail from which - he claimed - he had first learnt about the package holiday.

 

As he was leaving, I thought I would accost him by the lift and ask him if he always booked his holidays through the Daily Mail. Without batting an eyelid, he claimed that he had just happened to have seen a free copy while he was in the gym. That may have been true, or maybe he did not want his members to know he read the Daily Mail.

What was appealing about the old bruiser was that there was nothing false in the image he presented to the public. He was not vain, in the way so many people in the public eye are. He did not act hurt and precious when attacked by the Daily Mail: he expected it. He was one of a kind.

I agree with Mick Whelan, of the Aslef rail union, when he said: “There will never be another Bob Crow.” London commuters will doubtless say amen to that.

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
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
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick