Tube strike: In praise of Bob Crow, Britain’s trade union pantomime villain

He is the most effective union leader in Britain today

Share

Being a member of a union is often a dispiriting experience these days. They are not what they once were.

As Tony Blair once crowed our laws are “the most restrictive on trade unions in the Western world”. And there are many that would seek to make them more so following this morning's Tube strike.

There's often a managerial culture about unions these days. A tendency to appease rather than fight, a tendency to over-negotiate, to over-compromise, to blink a little too quickly. With a handful of exceptions union bosses resemble politicians more than they really should.

There's often a feeling that they are balancing the interests of their members with those of the management - when really the concerns of management should be near the bottom of their list of priorities.

They're not all bad of course.

Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union springs to mind. Matt Wrack of the FBU is another.

And then there's Bob Crow - the pantomime villain of modern industrial relations in Britain, and the tubby poster boy for the campaign to make it even more difficult to take strike action in this country.

Firmly a member of the 'Awkward Squad', Mr Crow is a hard man to love. His blustery, aggressive manner and sometimes nonsensical table-thumping can grate. His high profile is also a problem.

Read more: Are Tube workers right to strike against ticket office closures?

Despite his protestations to the contrary, his holiday, which resulted in him being pictured on a Brazilian beach, was a distraction.

The criticism he regularly faces for living in a council house, despite his six figure salary, is also a distraction.

All these charges, whether you consider them legitimate or not, do not distract, however, from the fact that by a long way Bob Crow is the most effective union leader in Britain today.

And he does it by focusing on one thing - getting the best deal for his members. He's very good at doing it, and he's very popular with his members as a consequence. Mr Crow was elected to be leader of the RMT in 2002.

On election he received nearly double the number of votes of the two other candidates put together. He has subsequently been re-elected on two occasions unopposed. He is, whatever way you look at it, extremely popular with those he represents.

The RMT has repeatedly negotiated strong pay increases for its members. Tube drivers are paid around £52,000 - well above the wages of other Londoners. And what of this dispute, that sees Crow once again cast in the role of villain?

In 2008 Boris Johnson ran for Mayor of London opposing the planned closure of 40 ticket offices by Ken Livingstone. He also reiterated his promise in 2010 that he would keep manned ticket offices in all stations telling the London Assembly “The first and most important point to make is that no ticket offices will be closed, alright? They're not going to be closed...”

The reason the mayor did this is because he knew plans to close ticket offices were unpopular, and I suspect they still are.

That Boris Johnson has committed a slow U-Turn on this and now supports the decision to cut nearly 1,000 jobs is perhaps the most outrageous part of the whole story.

Rather than criticise Bob Crow for doing his job extremely effectively, or for having expensive holidays, or for living in a council house, isn't it time we gave him a bit of credit for challenging hypocrisy, standing up for workers' rights and being unbowed in the face of considerable pressure?

Men like him are rare in British public life and those who would focus on his few failings are missing the point.

 

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Sales Consultant - OTE £45,000

£15000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for an exci...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Turkey conflict: Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk
 

At last! An Education Secretary who thinks teachers should teach

Chris Maume
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food