A lion of the labour movement has left us. Bob Crow was leader of Britain’s Rail, Maritime and Transport Union most notably the London Underground workers. He died at age 52 on March 10, 2014.
Crow was demonized by commuters for calling frequent strikes but idolized by the members for the high wages and benefits and respect he won for them. His members who operate the Underground make about $85,000, straight time.
“Tube workers are the only working-class people who still have well-paid jobs in London,” said former mayor Ken Livingstone.
There were growing ties between RMT and ATU Local 113 forged by Crow and Bob Kinnear, who got to know one another in recent years. Crow invited Kinnear to attend and address the RMT’s annual conference in Scotland in 2012 and Crow visited Toronto early last year to discuss with 113 international strategies against privatization. Crow as a fierce opponent of transit privatization and many of the 35 strikes he called were spurred by that issue.
“He was the most dynamic labour leader I have ever had the privilege to meet,” said Kinnear, who sent a tribute to Crow’s private funeral on behalf of Local 113 members.
“He was absolutely fearless in standing up for his members. The U.K. labour movement has lost a giant of a leader.”
Bob Crow, leader of Britain’s Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, denied being “the most hated man in London” after a transit strike.
By: Jennifer Quinn News reporter, Published on Tue Mar 11 2014
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Bob Crow is someone you may never have heard of. But he could, and sometimes did, bring one of the world’s great cities to its knees. How? Simple: shut down London’s Tube.
Crow, the leader of Britain’s Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, died suddenly Tuesday. He was 52. Crow was the U.K.’s most recognizable labour figure, an idol to his union’s members — which included London Underground workers — and, at times, a demon to commuters.
For seven years, I was one of them.
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I always had mixed feelings about Crow: I very much admired his commitment to his union’s members, and was pleased they were paid a good wage in a very expensive city. (In 2011, a deal was struck that gave Tube train drivers, for example, a salary of about 50,000 pounds a year — roughly $81,000 Canadian at the time.)
former mayor Ken Livingstone told Sky News on Tuesday, “are his members.”
But when strikes were called — which happened enough when I was living in London — I loathed Crow, whom I (perhaps unreasonably) saw as the reason I was having trouble getting to work.
And I was not alone. Crow was once asked what it was like to be “the most hated man in London,” after a strike.
“If anybody says it is nice to be known as hated, they’re lying,” he told the Guardian in 2009. “But I’m not hated. They’re lying. I’m not the most hated. I tell you what, I’ve been travelling around on the trains, and I don’t get no aggro at all.”
It’s difficult to explain what a nightmare London can be without the Tube. About 3.5 million people use the underground every day and when it is shut, tempers fray. Traffic snarls. People even give up on queuing in their haste to get on a bus, and queuing, as everyone knows, is a mainstay of British civilization.
Londoners sometimes just choose to stay home during a strike, rather than face the hassle of trying to get around a huge city with chaos on public transportation, which nearly 50 per cent of commuters use to get to work, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Crow always seemed unapologetic about the inconvenience the strikes were causing Londoners, but then, it wasn’t his job to look after us: He was looking after his members.
“Some people obviously dislike me and what we’re standing for, I accept that,” Crow said in a 2011 interview with the Financial Times (which, he told the journalist, his father told him to read, and then believe the exact opposite). “But 10 times that amount of people come up and shake my hand.”
Even those who butted heads with Crow, such as current London Mayor Boris Johnson — the Toriest of Tories — admired his commitment to those he represented.
“Bob Crow was a fighter and a man of character,” Johnson, who recently had words with Crow on a phone-in radio program, said Tuesday in an emailed statement to Bloomberg News. “Whatever our political differences, and there were many, this is tragic news. Bob fought tirelessly for his beliefs and for his members.”
Crow was born in 1961 in east London. He started working on the London Underground when he was 16, and became involved with unions when he was 19, the BBC reported. Crow took over as leader of the RMT in 2002, and under his leadership, increased membership by 20,000, to about 80,000.
He always seemed like a complex man: He reportedly earned 145,000 pounds ($267,000 Canadian) as the head of the union, yet lived in social housing. The Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead, who interviewed Crow in February, wrote Tuesday that she was “pretty sure he considered his unpopularity among the media and political classes a signifier of success, because he wore it like a badge of honour.”
Though Crow fell out with the Labour Party — he once heckled a speech by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair at a union conference — its leader still paid tribute to Crow, saying he was “loved and deeply respected by his members.”
“I didn’t always agree with him politically,” Ed Miliband tweeted, “but I always respected his tireless commitment to fighting for the men and women in his union.”
Crow was a fan of south London’s Millwall Football Club, whose supporters have a rather rough-and-tumble reputation. Many of the obituaries penned about the union leader on Tuesday included references to the team’s famous chant.
“No one likes us,” it goes. “We don’t care.”