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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mourning Bob Crow

It is always difficult to know how to treat the death of a controversial public figure, especially when it is someone who provoked strong reactions, and often adverse ones.  This was not a difficulty that particularly afflicted Bob Crow on Margaret Thatcher's death.  He hoped, he mused publicly, that she would rot in hell for what she had done to Britain.  No humbug in death there then.

So although Mr. Crow's death has come rather more unexpectedly, and thus rather shockingly, than the late Prime Minister's, it would be good to think we might apply the same principles to him that he so happily applied to Thatcher.  There is, in fact, rather less to say about Mr. Crow as it happens.  That he is a far less significant figure than Mrs. Thatcher is beyond question, and much of the prominence of his obituaries and tributes stems from the fact that he was a current union leader, very much in the driving seat of tube drivers' militancy in London at the moment.  Had he died, as he might reasonably have expected, some time after his retirement, it is unlikely it would have been such headline news.

Bob Crow was immensely irritating to those who used the tube, and utterly impervious to the needs of thousands of ordinary Londoners if the convenience of their travel got in the way of his own hard bargaining with tube bosses or the mayor.  In this instance he was indeed a classic union leader.  His priorities were the pay and welfare of his members, and he pursued them with a bloody-mindedness that certainly seeemed to work. It didn't, to be honest, take much political skill to do this.  Crow led a group of workers who controlled a monopoly system of transport in London.  They themselves did little to promote the wealth and prosperity of the city they depended on, using its growth as a bargaining chip for better pay and perks, and yet they were instrumental in its smooth running.  It is difficult to begrudge Crow his success in exploiting that simple dynamic.  He identified the fact that his workers controlled a key artery of the city and - good communist that he may have been - used the iron law of the market to bring munificence to his drivers.  It was not his fault that tube drivers were all gathered into one union, and he was entirely justified in using that situation to his and his members' advantage.  There are many who might argue that £44,000 a year for tube drivers remains cheap at the price in a city where so many bankers and attendant capitalist blood-suckers - whose positive impact on their society is dubious at best - can command hundreds of thousands, and even millions of pounds.

Crow may be the last of the successful union militants.  He recognised, as his successors surely will too, that the ongoing automation of the tube will eventually undermine the RMT's ability to hold Londonders to ransom for their own advantage.  That's obviously bad news for tube workers, but good news for Londoners generally, and Bob Crow's brand of union leadership, successful as a last gasp of bull-headed worker militancy, will be consigned to the dustbin.  Not everyone will be cheering that London can be left to the whims of the rich, wealthy and profligate with no recognition of the poor bloody worker. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bob Crow was a bizarre character and a political dinosaur. He continued to live in a council property in spite of his salary and that sums up his try-too-hard approach to socialism. It's ironic that his militant stance and his refusal to give anything at all has actually increased resentment, removed union support and if anything will take his drivers out of a job more quickly as the frequency of strike action hastens the use of driver-less trains.