YEARS AGO, when the right-wing ruled the roost throughout the labour movement, complacency, opportunism and class-collaboration were the order of the day. Faction leaders spent their time advancing their own careers, and those of their followers, and did their best to marginalise or isolate any move from the grass-roots that threatened to rock the boat.
The days when it could be said that all full-time officers are useless but some are more useless than others has now long gone. This was largely due to the efforts of rank-and-file movements to build militant unions with fighting leaders at the helm. Arthur Scargill was one of them. Bob Crow was another.
Bob Crow, the general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) was cut down by a fatal heart attack on Tuesday. He was just 52. A few weeks ago he was on the picket lines defending London Underground workers jobs in a two-day strike that shut down most of the network and forced management back to the negotiating table. Now his members, and millions more in the wider movement, are mourning the loss of an outstanding trade union leader.
Bob Crow came from the East End of London and left school at 16 to join the P-Way teams that maintain and clear the tracks and cuttings on London Underground. He came from a communist family and he followed their footsteps into the old Communist Party and a life of militant work within the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR), the core of what has become the RMT. This was the path that led him to his historic election to the fore of RMT in 2002.
The unions are full of “former communists” who used the movement to help them climb up the greasy pole and then dump it when it was no longer any further use to their careers. Crow, on the other hand, left the Communist Party of Britain in 1995 to join Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party.
He later went his own way to found the No2EU platform to stand in the European elections with RMT support. But Crow never abandoned his core beliefs which he called “communist-socialist” and this was evident in the causes he supported which went far beyond the confines of the transport industry.
Bob Crow was, first and foremost, a union leader who ably deployed his union’s industrial strength in dealing with the railway companies and London Underground. The RMT defended and improved the pay and conditions of its members across the board and membership soared under his stewardship, making it one of Britain's fastest growing trade unions.
Passengers on London Underground also benefitted from the improvement of safety throughout the system fought for and won by the RMT under his leadership.
But he will also be remembered for his campaigning work in the broader movement in support of Cuba, Venezuela and the Palestinian people. He was on the streets helping the campaign to kick the fascist BNP out of Dagenham. He was a strident opponent of the European Union and a constant thorn in the flesh of the Labour leaders whom he derided for their constant sell-outs and betrayals.
Crow was frank, honest and open to everyone he worked with. He believed in what he was doing and he was afraid of nothing. He led by example and always worked for the unity of the class in all the struggles against the ruling class that he despised.
Now the time has come to take up the banner Bob Crow upheld throughout his life to advance the working class, trade union rights and the struggle for socialism in Britain.