A Class Warrior
Sean Garland pays tribute to the late Bob Crow.
The news of Comrade Bob Crow‘s sudden death at the age of 52 years on Tuesday 11th March was a devastating shock to the many thousands who were touched by the life of the General Secretary of the RMT Union, over his years of struggle in defending and expanding the rights of workers.
Born in East London, Bob left school at the age of 16. From an early age he recognised that trade unions were the first and should be the most formidable line of defence for workers against greedy, unscrupulous employers and the system of capitalism which the ruling class employed to exploit them.
In 1983 he became a local trade union representative and within two years he was a national officer for track workers in the National Union of Railwaymen which became the RMT when it merged with the National Union of Seamen in 1990.
From the outset of his trade union career he made it clear that his priority as a union official would be the welfare of members. Over the years he held true to this promise. He opposed any and every wrong whether it was from employers or a weak and servile union leadership which surrendered to reaction, whether it was a Tory or Labour government.
On the death of the RMT General Secretary, Jimmy Knap, in 2001 Bob became a candidate for the position and in the subsequent election he received a huge majority of members’ votes. Despite the attempts of the rightwing press and elements of the Labour Party to vilify him, Bob proved his worth by succeeding in winning better pay and conditions for his union’s members. In the process he increased the union membership to 80,000 when many other unions were losing and unable to recruit members.
Bob was acclaimed for his action in defending and recruiting lower paid workers, especially cleaners on the railways, an action which was resisted by some elements in the RMT.
The RMT’s relationship with the British Labour Party was very stormy under Bob Crow’s leadership. He had long recognised the Labour Party, who more and more proclaimed themselves as Social Democrats, were merely “The Labour Lieutenants of capitalism”. He was a leading figure in a group of trade unionists who sought to place class politics back at the centre of the Labour movement. Bob was not shy in pointing out that the Labour Party was in the most part led by opportunists who had no aim or principle to achieve a socialist society. He was clear that these people had no ability to, or interest in achieving anything for the working class. Eventually the break came in 2004 when the RMT Union was expelled from the Labour Party for supporting rival candidates in elections.
Bob Crowe was of the clear view that the workers of Britain and indeed of all lands need a political party to represent their views and to implement clear socialist policies. He always sought to articulate the needs of the majority of British workers. To this end he gave support to politicians who expressed similar views and who would implement clear socialist policies and not the aims of the wealthy few to whom Blair, Brown and their cohort bowed the knee.
He was never slow to proclaim his support against any injustice.
For those of us, who live outside Britain, who came to know this stalwart of the international working class his death is a huge blow. He was never slow to proclaim his support against any injustice whether it was in the area of labour, human or civil rights, nationally and internationally. We will miss his strong and vibrant voice in exposing wrong and in mobilising support for progressive causes. In particular, I am grateful for Bob and the RMT Union, for their wonderful solidarity and support in my own anti-extradition campaign. It puts to shame many in our own country who were prepared to stand idly by whilst reactionary forces in the US and Ireland sought to railroad an Irish citizen to certain death in a US prison.
On the numerous occasions that Comrade Bob Crow spoke at the annual Jim Connell Red Flag Festival in County Meath he always recognised the struggle of the Irish working class and of how it had been divided, in the north of our country, on sectarian lines. He was a driving force in ensuring the success of the Red Flag Festival and its development into a crucial forum for serious debate, discussion and celebration of the socialist tradition in Ireland.
If one was to place Comrade Bob Crow in an historical role it would be to place him alongside James Larkin and James Connolly who devoted their lives to organising and leading the working class in the struggle for equality, freedom and socialism. Bob through his life’s work identified with the workers of all lands, he hated bigotry, intolerance, racism and he treated all whom he met with respect and courtesy.
Comrade Bob Crow spent his life in the struggle to give the working class a sense of their worth and a belief that we should accept nothing less than equality. He believed that workers had no need to beg or grovel for justice or the crumbs from the rich man’s table. His life’s goal was a society free from poverty, inequality and all the evils that flow from capitalism, in short a socialist society governed by the working class, for the majority of the people, the working class.
I believe a poem “Success” written by the American author Ralph Waldo Emerson captures the ideals and meaning of our good friend and comrade Bob Crow’s life:
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affections of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends.
To appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or
a redeemed social condition;
to know that even one life
has breathed easier
because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
To Bob: With sadness, appreciation and thanks for having met and known you as a friend and comrade.
Sean Garland on behalf of The Workers Party of Ireland.
Extracts from a powerful speech by RMT General Secretary Bob Crow delivered on 5th May, 2013, at the memorial in Crossakiel, County Meath, which commemorates the writer of the Red Flag, Jim Connell, who was born in the village in 1852.
“Capitalism has collapsed, it has failed. Capital has failed to give people full employment, Capital has failed to give people the society that they want, and what happens when capital fails it means that society breaks down and it falls into wars.”
“Apart from small details, and I accept in small detail there is difference, the Liberals, Labour and Tories all support privatisation, they all support keeping the anti-trade union laws and they all support keeping us in the European Union. Why would you want to be in the European Union when it is the same European Union which is causing mass unemployment?”
“Our friends are the Bulgarians, our friends are the Chinese, our friends are the Vietnamese, our friends are the Polish, it is the system that is wrong which makes two workers compete against one another for lower pay and lower conditions.”
“It all boils down to one thing, everything we took for granted since World War Two, a National Health Service, a decent comprehensive education, they want to dismantle it bit by bit because the bosses have an ideological hatred against working people, they don’t you to have nothing.”
“It is no good us keeping on looking back and marching for Jim Connell, the great man that he was, but let’s start making our own history, let’s start having plaques about what is happening in 2013 and 2014, how we are going to end this austerity crisis and smash these bankers and capitalism.”
“We’ve got to carry out the full impact, that means militant trade unionism in the workplace coupled with a political party that is willing to roll its sleeves up and fight on behalf of working people like Thatcher did on behalf of big business.”