Bob Crow, 52, firebrand General Secretary of the RMT, has died of a suspected heart attack.
The grandson of East End boxer “Punch Crow” left school at 16 for a career on the railways, first becoming involved with unions at the age of 19. Crow rose through the ranks during the turbulent 1980s, when the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher was in a semi-permanent state of war with the union movement. It was during that decade the National Union of Railwaymen merged with the Seamen’s Union to form the Railway and Maritime Transport Union, better known by its acronym RMT. Crow was elected General Secretary in 2002.
Membership of the Union increased dramatically under Crow. As well as increasing the basic pay for a tube driver to £50,000 p.a, Crow secured a £350.00 bonus for working Boxing Day, costs that were passed on to tube commuters. The price of a single stop ticket on the London Underground is £4.70. In Paris (with driverless trains), the same ticket costs £1.40.
Between 2009 and 2011, Crow oversaw ballots for over 100 strikes. The British Chamber of Commerce estimates that the average cost to the capital of a one-day tube strike is £50 million.
But despite his trade union roots he had a tough relationship with the Labour party due to its ‘third way’ politics. Crow ceased the RMT’s affiliation with Labour and he and his supporters famously heckled Tony Blair at the 2006 Labour Party Conference.
Crow described himself as a ‘communist/socialist’, a stance supported by his party memberships:
He was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Communist Party of Britain, and Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. Crow repeatedly called for a new workers party to be formed through the merger of the myriad of socialist parties.
Despite being an avowed communist/socialist, Crow was not immune to the trappings of power; his annual salary was £145,000, famously boasting “I am worth it, yeah”. Despite his salary, Crow refused to move from his council house, presumably unconcerned about the waiting lists for social housing in the area.
Nor did Crow seem concerned at jetting off at inopportune times. In January 2011, only 24hrs after setting up two rail strikes, Crow took a 5-star cruise of the Caribbean. This year, during negotiations to resolve the 48hr Tube strike, Crow was pictured on a Rio beach.
Boris Johnson has called Crow “a fighter and a man of character”.
Crow is survived by a wife and four children.