In an age when there are few successful heroes willing to fight against neoliberalism, Britain’s Bob Crow stood apart.
He made the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers the fastest growing union in the UK, but when he gave his last long form interview to me (for Going Underground on RT), it was clear that Crow’s practical skills were rooted in the deepest of theoretical ideas about how a society should function in the best interests of all.
Crow and his thousands of comrades had just used strike action to win the right to negotiate over pay and conditions on London’s Underground network and he was in bullish mood. He told us how, at last, issues could be ironed out in a rational way instead of as part of a direct class war with the government and management. Ironically, we asked Crow to record some eulogies for politicians he respected who were unwell. Who would have thought that he would die so suddenly at the age of 52 of a reported heart attack?
Like most workers’ leaders, he was demonized by the tightly-controlled right wing press in Britain. Every time he fought for his members, journalists and the commentariat volunteered to defame him by almost any means necessary. That is a testament to just how dangerous the establishment saw Crow, just as they saw Arthur Scargill a generation ago.
Everything the establishment had in its power was thrown at Scargill, to sabotage his attempt at preserving the most economic coal in Europe. Today, Britain imports coal mined by children. With Crow, attention in the media centered on the fact that he lived in a council house despite his earnings. What those who call themselves journalists in Britain didn’t understand was that Crow favored public over private, society over atomized individuals. Only a council house could be acceptable. Then they attacked his salary, even though it was his thousands of members who voted for him to earn in a year what a CEO of a nationalized bank takes home in a month. Most recently, they had paparazzi photograph him on holiday in Brazil - as if taking a holiday before preparing for battle wasn’t a wise move.
Since the 1984 Miners’ Strike, Britain’s politicians have become more subservient to the 1 percent management elite and that made Crow all the more unique as a voice against prevailing ideas about the organization of society. Our interview with Crow was conducted at the RMT’s headquarters in London, in the center of a toroid table around which the General Strike of 1926 was voted on and around which the Labour Party was founded. He died despising what the Labour Party had become - one deeply committed to the Thatcher Revolution of the 1980s. The Labour Party he once fought for now differs from the Tories by a few percentage points of GDP when it comes to budget ambitions. More interesting to Crow was the broad sweep of worker struggles. RMT HQ is adorned not just by an alarming amount of Millwall Football memorabilia, it also commemorates workers who died fighting fascism in Spain and those fighting the US-backed coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
The RMT, under Bob Crow, severed links with the British Labour party soon after it helped launch the catastrophic war on Iraq. The Union had had ties with Labour for over a century. Crow was preparing to stand as a candidate for a new party that would fight the macro-level neoliberalism of the EU. He would have been giving speeches in the coming weeks about the US-backed coup d’état in Ukraine.
Crow believed in a great narrative of global history and supported anti-imperialist movements around the world. He sought a vanguard and said he was inspired by the spirit of the Palestinian people who continue to fight despite all odds. He said he wanted a wholesale revolution in Britain akin to the revolution in Cuba.
One of Crow’s inspirations, Fidel Castro still survives amidst Cuba’s on-going war against the biggest military power on earth and Bob Crow is no more. But I think it’s a pretty good bet that Crow will have inspired a new generation who will strive harder for a society that is truly egalitarian, in effect a grander class struggle than just one train or shipping strike.
Britain is in the throes of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s and unlike the 1 percent so memorably evoked by F Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, those inspired by Bob Crow will beat on, boats against the current, borne forward ceaselessly into the future.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.