A guest post by Tim Lezard*
Workers loved him, bosses hated him. Bob Crow divided opinion; but isn't that what trade union leaders are supposed to do?
The RMT general secretary, who died yesterday of a suspected heart attack, was a hero to many. His members, and jealous members of other unions, saw in him someone who unflinchingly, instinctively and unapologetically defended them and their rights.
The bosses, sitting across the negotiating table, saw in him a monster trying to rob them of their profits.
But he didn't care what they thought. Not for him the path of cosying up to the bosses. He wasn't interested in being their friend. He was interested only in getting the best for his members.
And people respected – or feared – him for that. Our job at UnionNews is to report on unions, not to judge them. But we can judge by the reaction of lay members and activists on social media just how popular he was.
Yes, fellow general secretaries were quick to praise him, but ask yourself: the death of which other general secretary would provoke such an outpouring of grief?
He was not always a popular figure amongst the trade union hierarchy. Many felt his macho style was somewhat outdated in an era when more women than men are trade unionists, but critics could not fail to admire his achievements: the high level of pay of his members, the good safety levels on the railways and, impressively, the fact the RMT put on 20,000 members during his time as general secretary.
Members of all unions expressed their sorrow at his death, but it was the warmth of the tributes that struck a chord because they recognised the huge contribution he made to our movement.
We would smile at UnionNews when we received yet another press release informing us the RMT was to ballot for strike action.
We smiled because we knew bosses would take seriously the threat of strike action. We smiled because we knew they would be worried. And we smiled because, as trade unionists ourselves, that was good news.
The RMT under Bob Crow's leadership shows us what can be achieved if we stand up for our principles, if we stand together.
Bob Crow gave his members confidence and he gave them hope. He also gave them laughs.
I remember at TUC in Brighton two years ago when, during a debate on the EU, he was accused of nationalism, of wanting to keep the Queen's head on our currency. To much laughter, he replied: ‘I don't care if it's the Queen's head or the Queen's arse on a ten pound note.’
But my favourite memory is at TUC in Bournemouth last year. Asked by a Daily Express reporter whether the RMT would resign from the Labour Party, he interrupted, saying: ‘We were expelled from the Labour Party years ago.’
The reporter, thinking on her feet and trying to maintain the angle for her story, countered: ‘Would you consider re-affiliating to the Labour Party just so you could resign in protest?’
Without skipping a beat, he looked her in the eye and said: ‘That is the most stupid fucking question I've ever been asked.’
I have been lucky enough to have met Bob Crow several times, both professionally and socially, and he was certainly a straight talker.
I remember, on telling him about UnionNews, he replied: ‘What? You’re all over the internet?’
To many he appeared bullish, brash even, but friends who knew him tell me he was sensitive and kind too.
Whatever your view of Bob Crow, the labour movement is a poorer, and weaker, place without him.
The best tribute union members can give Bob Crow is to recruit new members, fight for equality and make our movement stronger.
In the words of Joe Hill: ‘Don't mourn; organise.’
*Tim Lezard is editor of UnionNews.