11 Mar 2014

Bob Crow 1961-2014

Asking whether Bob Crow is the “last of his kind” overlooks the specific power of the RMT.¬† His union pretty much had the power to paralyse the London Underground, likewise parts of the national rail network.

Oil tanker drivers are the nearest recent  comparable workforce for ability to throttle a sector. Some recent civil service strike actions show the relative lack of power even quite well-supported industrial action can have because of its lack of impact on everyday lives.

Bob Crow bequeaths his successor a similar power if he or she is mandated to use it. The skill comes in making members feel confident you know what you’re doing with that muscle, that you can pull off a deal that improves their terms of employment and doesn’t end up, Scargill-style, over-reaching and landing them out of work.

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The various political forces in the RMT do not make that a foregone conclusion. Bob Crow pulled off the balancing act and saw membership of his union rise 23,000 during his term of office.

Like Boris Johnson, who’d crossed swords only last month with Bob Crow, Ken Livingstone paid tribute to the late RMT general secretary’s work. But the two fell out in 2007 when Ken Livingstone as Mayor claimed Bob Crow was holding a strike despite being given every concession he’d wanted.

He accused Mr Crow of “misusing the strike weapon, basically as a bullying technique rather than to resolve a genuine and irreconcilable difference … a small handful of people on the RMT executive are behaving rather more like a protection racket than a proper industrial union”.

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