Bob Crow: A genuine working class hero who stood his ground

Bob Crow pictured in 2005. Photo: PA

When I joined ITN in 1980 as an industrial correspondent, Bob Crow wasn't on my radar. I think he was probably still a tube worker.

The glitterati of the trade's union movement were awesome: the gnarled, working class warriors, Jack Jones of the TGWU and Hugh Scanlon of the AUEW, were the Romulus and Remus of socialism's promised land.

The industrial might of coal-mining and steel forging was represented by the NUM's belligerent Arthur Scargill and the gentle Bill Sirs.

Arthur had a doughty lieutenant in Mick McGahey - a battered, hard-drinking, Scottish communist - but he was an intellectual giant.

Arthur Scargill (left) and Mick McGahey in London at the NCB's headquarters in 1984. Credit: PA

The public services, still a sector-defined maize, boasted the likes of Yorkshireman and Elvis Costello look-alike Rodney Bickerstaffe running the public servant's NUPE whilst the teachers had, it seemed forever, the headmasterly Fred Jarvis at the helm of the NUT.

They were working class to their roots when they were confronted by one Margaret Thatcher.

She took them on and tore them apart with industrial relations legislation and brutal 'who blinks first' disputes, the bulk of which she won.

Under Tony Blair, post 1997, things changed, existentially. A new breed of polished apparatchiks emerged, as union membership and influence sunk.

Unison's Dave Prentice is a polished product of that evolution – fearless in voicing the fight, willing to settle with a crisp reading of the political weather.

General Secretary of UNITE, Len McCluskey at an NHS 65th birthday party in Manchester last year. Credit: PA

The NUT's Christine Blower is another able leader who threatens, effectively, more strikes than she delivers.

The mighty GMB's Paul Kenny gets close to the original model but seldom do the sons of the general, municipal and boiler-makers down tools.

Unite, the heir of the mighty TGWU, is run by Len McCluskey, who more often than not has his fingers burned over relations with the Labour party and who ended a long row with BA, bruised.

Many of the old unions I grew up with - TGWU, AUEW, ASTMS, COHSE are now but a promising score in 'Scrabble' - merged or now missing.

Bob Crow pictured in 2002. Credit: PA

The RMT itself is an amalgamation of the Seaman's and Railwaymen's unions. But their late leader, Bob Crow, was always an echo of my early years.

A 'working class hero', as John Lennon would have had it; a brilliant, and genuine 'estuary' orator; and a man for whom 'all out' was more of a default position than 'lets get round the table'.

Britain and her economy are possibly in a better place for most, though not all, as a result of those four decades of evolution.

But Bob stood his ground and, as Ken Livingstone rightly observed this evening, his members are better off and safer than any comparable group of organised workers I can think of.

Ask the few steel workers and coalminers you can find nowadays or the shrinking army of disillusioned public servants in 21st Century Britain.

Just don't ask Labour or coalition ministers, of late. Or commuters.

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