DONATE NOW TO HELP UPGRADE LIBCOM.ORG

Bob Crow dead

41 posts / 0 new
Last post
Anonymous
Mar 11 2014 10:14
Bob Crow dead

RMT statement:

Quote:
It is with the deepest regret that RMT has to confirm that our General Secretary Bob Crow sadly passed away in the early hours of this morning.

The union’s offices will be closed for the rest of the day and the union will make further announcements in due course. The media have been asked to respect the privacy of Bob’s friends and family at this difficult and distressing time.

ocelot's picture
ocelot
Offline
Joined: 15-11-09
Mar 11 2014 11:39

Strewth. Unexpected news. I may not have seen eye-to-eye with him on much of his politics - but at least he genuinely had some, which is more than you can say for most union heads these days.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 11 2014 11:40

Very sad, he was only 52. And whatever you thought of him (personally, while being a critic of the union form as such, I thought he was great) the UK political scene has just got a lot less interesting.

I just hope that his death doesn't help weaken the resolve of London transport workers who face huge attacks on jobs from ticket office closures and driverless trains

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Mar 11 2014 14:59

Is this another Mandela moment?
Bob Crow had many personal qualities, as did Mandela, and all of them were used by the ideological apparatus of capital to help build the last ramparts of trade unionism.

Reddebrek's picture
Reddebrek
Offline
Joined: 4-01-12
Mar 11 2014 14:59

Yeah this is a shame, I met Bob a couple of times, nice guy bursting with energy. I had a lot of respect for him as a person and the RMT for its militancy and interests beyond its own role in negotiations with management.

Wonder what the reactions of his death will be in the press, probably the standard vapid compliments they say about everyone they don't like who dies.

Theft's picture
Theft
Offline
Joined: 17-08-11
Mar 11 2014 15:08
Alf wrote:
Is this another Mandela moment?
Bob Crow had many personal qualities, as did Mandela, and all of them were used by the ideological apparatus of capital to help build the last ramparts of trade unionism.

Yes! Nothing like a lovable Stalinist.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Mar 11 2014 15:32

Yeah, not gonna shed too many tears. He was, ultimately, a Stalinist bureaucrat.

All that said, you do have to give credit where credit is due and he was the only modern trade union officer who I've ever actually seen make any class argument in the press. So while the RMT still represents the militant end of trade unionism and - according to friends in the RMT - Crow wasn't exactly a bastion of democratic leadership, he was good for having the balls to go on national TV and not spout the usual watered down bullshit we hear from the supposed spokespersons of organised labour. And good on him for that.

no1
Offline
Joined: 3-12-07
Mar 11 2014 17:23
Alf wrote:
Is this another Mandela moment?

Feels a bit like the media and political class are using it as an opportunity to symbolically bury the remnants of workers militancy and "communism" together with Bob Crow.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Mar 11 2014 20:56

I think that's a good point from no1 above about the way Crow is useful to the bourgeoisie dead as he was alive. The same can be said for the existence and collapse of the Russian bloc. Fulsome time and tributes on the BBC for Crow - a "class warrior" according to some, identifying his clique-run union with workers' struggle and "the last of his kind" according to others (unfortunately not). A stalinist and nationalist who deserves a medal from the bourgeoisie for his services in keeping the illusions of trade unionism alive.

cresspot's picture
cresspot
Offline
Joined: 8-09-13
Mar 11 2014 23:38

So how many people did this guy purge from his union

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2014 00:07
cresspot wrote:
So how many people did this guy purge from his union

you what?

Most likely no one.

Apart from anything else, in the UK it is basically unlawful to expel anyone from a union. The only exception being one recently established by law where BNP activists can be kicked out.

A Wotsit's picture
A Wotsit
Offline
Joined: 14-11-11
Mar 12 2014 00:55

I think cresspot was attempting a joke about the characterisation of Bob Crow as a Stalinist. At least that's how I read it, with a heavy emphasis on attempting.

I don't really know if what he represented was good or bad. I think he certainly attracted hate from the right for the right reasons (a commitment to class struggle). I don't doubt his commitment to class struggle, but not really sure if he 'advanced' the class struggle in his role as a union boss. I would certainly see any union boss as an impediment to the struggle if it seemed like without them the workers would be better (and less hierarchically) organised and more militant. I don't know if saying 'a union boss who helped advance the class struggle' is anarchist/ libcom heresy. Did he do that? That was certainly the impression I got, that he pushed RMT members to be more militant.

Unions bad, but better than nothing, militant unions better than cosy-with-management unions, striking workers good, but union bosses controlling the strikes bad?... idk

Do we have any good articles on Bob Crow which could help people understand 'his legacy'- which is a phrase I've seen on twitter- once in relation to encouraging people to join trade unions- once in relation to encouraging people to buy the Morning Star.

edit: just to add, hard to know how to pitch this. I mean if I knew him irl I think I probably would have got on with him very well, it feels crass to use his death as a means to talk politics but... well, that's what I'm doing. I feel like I should add I feel empathy for his loved ones and I am sorry he is dead- I do not think the class struggle will in any way benefit from losing Bob Crow. Here's hoping RMT workers won't wait for a new charismatic leader, but will organise themselves to new levels of militancy both within, against and outside the trade union form.

Awesome Dude's picture
Awesome Dude
Offline
Joined: 31-07-07
Mar 12 2014 08:29

This is interesting considering the plans by Transport for London bosses to fundamentally reorganise service delivery. There's massive potential for bitter industrial action over the next 5-10 years as the bosses try to impose their will. I thought Bob had at least 10 years left at the top of the RMT. Bottles of bubbly must be popping at the greater London authority and Tory party HQ.

Anyone have an idea just how critical Uncle Bob's charisma was in motivating militancy at the RMT? Was he an Alex Ferguson/ Jose Mourinho style figure whose managerial and motivational talent was/is the decisive factor in a teams success? Or is the RMT an institution like Barcelona or Real Madrid that don't depend on managerial talent for sustained success?

Sorry for the football analogies, couldnt think of anything else.

Caiman del Barrio
Offline
Joined: 28-09-04
Mar 12 2014 11:10
Awesome Dude wrote:
Anyone have an idea just how critical Uncle Bob's charisma was in motivating militancy at the RMT? Was he an Alex Ferguson/ Jose Mourinho style figure whose managerial and motivational talent was/is the decisive factor in a teams success? Or is the RMT an institution like Barcelona or Real Madrid that don't depend on managerial talent for sustained success?

This would seem to guide any useful discussion, beyond the mawkish eulogies given by rent-a-type morons - who'd happily write they're 'sad' to hear about anyone dying - on my Facebook feed: how significant is Crow for the strength of the RMT and its members? If the RMT now collapses or becomes a shadow of its former self, then that would seem to indicate some sort of structural weakness (or indeed centralising tendency) within it. If it continues to grow and maintains its militancy, then that would indicate that, despite what Trots think, a union is not its leadership, but its members.

A Wotsit's picture
A Wotsit
Offline
Joined: 14-11-11
Mar 12 2014 12:03

Yeah, Awesome Dude and Caimen and that guaridan quote are helpful imo.

If Bob Crow was a key driving force behind RMT militancy (which idk if he was or not, but that's my impression) then that wasn't necessarily a good thing as it means the self-organisation was not assisted (and may have been hampered) by members relying too much on officials and representatives.

I am reminded now of a discussion on here about the role of 'leading' organisers in general (not necessarily those with official authority, I think that was more about 'social leaders' and rank and file organisers)- whether they are always helpful to the struggle because without them then workers wouldn't be organising & fighting for themselves- and we would be losing even more in terms of jobs, pay and conditions. Or whether they are sometimes harmful because workers become incapable/ less inclined to fight for themselves when they become reliant on 'experts or specialists' (or officials) to represent them, direct the struggles and fight on their behalf.

So I guess we will wait and see what happens with RMT militancy and whether there is a (continued? or increased) tendancy towards self-organisation and greater rank-and-file militancy. Or whether they get a new leader who has a similar style to Crow (whom I still assume was 'driving and directing' increased militancy). Or if someone who is as obviously ineffective and management-oriented as most union bosses (I'm thinking of Prentis et Al).

I also think its a bit harsh to criticise people for saying they are sorry he's dead but that's by-the-by, I'm more interested in the politics and working out if we would be better off with militant union leaders who espouse class struggle or if this leads to a structural/ ideological/ material weakening of the working class' ability to fight for ourselves.

ocelot's picture
ocelot
Offline
Joined: 15-11-09
Mar 12 2014 13:38
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
On the point there are some interesting bits in the Guardian obit:

Quote:
The word "moderate" to describe Crow popped up surprisingly often in conversations with railway managers. This was partly because Crow was wont to warn negotiators that his executive was on the warpath and he would need concessions to keep them happy. However, it was also the case that there were executive members who were further left politically than Crow and far more eager to see disruptive industrial action.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/11/bob-crow

In fairness, this is a pretty common negotiating tactic - "I'd love to be able to give you more, I mean I'm on your side really, I totally see your point of view, but the members/exec/[insert big scary monster here] are really on the warpath this time, you've got to give me something to calm them down, we all want to avoid a disaster here..."

edit: also n.b. that "further left politically" does not always equate to more militant in extending demands, pushing for strike action or playing the brinkmanship role. Union bureaucrats can be paid up members of the "Stark Raving Luntic Communism or Death, Now!" party, and make rousing speeches in public, and still be relatively timid or unprepared to risk union funds in an actual industrial fight.

ocelot's picture
ocelot
Offline
Joined: 15-11-09
Mar 12 2014 14:04
A Wotsit wrote:
If Bob Crow was a key driving force behind RMT militancy (which idk if he was or not, but that's my impression) then that wasn't necessarily a good thing as it means the self-organisation was not assisted (and may have been hampered) by members relying too much on officials and representatives.

I am reminded now of a discussion on here about the role of 'leading' organisers in general (not necessarily those with official authority, I think that was more about 'social leaders' and rank and file organisers)- whether they are always helpful to the struggle because without them then workers wouldn't be organising & fighting for themselves- and we would be losing even more in terms of jobs, pay and conditions. Or whether they are sometimes harmful because workers become incapable/ less inclined to fight for themselves when they become reliant on 'experts or specialists' (or officials) to represent them, direct the struggles and fight on their behalf.

I think this is the key thing. I guess we can call it the "autonomy question". There's a double-edged sword at work. On the one hand, even a top down-driven increase in militancy and (successful) combativeness can be positive in increasing the confidence of members in being able to fight and win. But on the other hand, if it undermines their self-confidence in being able to self-organise the fight, rather than being dependent on leaders to do it for them, then that's a negative. What is the net result of a top-down militancy that simultaneously builds confidence* while undermining autonomy? Hard to say in the abstract.

A Wotsit wrote:
So I guess we will wait and see what happens with RMT militancy and whether there is a (continued? or increased) tendancy towards self-organisation and greater rank-and-file militancy. Or whether they get a new leader who has a similar style to Crow (whom I still assume was 'driving and directing' increased militancy). Or if someone who is as obviously ineffective and management-oriented as most union bosses (I'm thinking of Prentis et Al).

The problem is if an over-dependency on a dynamic leadership means that a subsequent "weak" one means the fortunes of the union decline, the natural lesson for a lot of people to draw is that the problem is the weakness of the current leadership, rather than the lack of self-organisation/autonomy of the membership. The dependency culture becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in some ways. Which is why the authoritarian left wouldn't know what the "autonomy question" was, if it bit them on the arse (which it actually does, frequently, in my experience).

A Wotsit wrote:
I also think its a bit harsh to criticise people for saying they are sorry he's dead but that's by-the-by,[...]

I agree that it's "harsh". Personally I would also say it was sectarian and somewhat repellant as well. But that's also to the side or apart from the less personal politics of the discussion.

* confidence of being a part of something that has the power to win, as distinct from self-confidence of possessing the power to win, within your local collectivity - which would be an element of autonomy, ovs.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Mar 12 2014 14:33
Quote:
In fairness, this is a pretty common negotiating tactic - "I'd love to be able to give you more, I mean I'm on your side really, I totally see your point of view, but the members/exec/[insert big scary monster here] are really on the warpath this time, you've got to give me something to calm them down, we all want to avoid a disaster here..."

Indeed, I can remember my union instructing branch office to keep their members out after a 24 hour strike, and then saying on national TV, and presumably also in negotiations with the management, that they couldn't control the workers, and that they were really angry.

The funny thing was that they nearly were in that position with one office walking out in solidarity with those who had taken action against the union.

Devrim

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2014 16:14
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
ocelot wrote:
In fairness, this is a pretty common negotiating tactic

Yes, but I think it's fairly safe for us to assume that Crow was more moderate than the RMT members we spoke to recently as he called off a strike they thought should still be happening.

I also remember militants being annoyed at him calling off a strike over safety a few years ago which IIRC 83% voted in favour of.

So I think that it was not the case that Crow's militancy spurred on the membership, more that his membership is just particularly militant

A Wotsit's picture
A Wotsit
Offline
Joined: 14-11-11
Mar 12 2014 16:54
Steven. wrote:
So I think that it was not the case that Crow's militancy spurred on the membership, more that his membership is just particularly militant

Ah, I was not aware of this (thinking of it my impression of Bob Crow driving RMT militancy was probably mostly gleaned from the capitalist press- oops).

So if the case is that Bob Crow was actually a dampener on RMT rank-and-file militancy (which seems to be implied by this calling-off strikes behaviour), does it perhaps follow that the members will now get a similarly more-militant-than-average union boss?

This is based on my assumption that union bosses (as with politicians) always act against interests of working class, to contain and manage (or straight-up oppress) the struggle, but have to been seen to be acting in their interest (with 'spectacular' struggle and appropriation of the language of struggle but actively only pursuing reforms, at best, or open repression legitamised with poisonous ideology, like nationalism, at worst).

So more militancy/ class solidarity among members = more 'class conscious' leaders (who are better placed to legitimise actions to dampen or contain rank-and-file militancy).

Reason anyone seemingly militant gets selected is cuz else leadership would not have enough credibility among members and therefore be unable to manage and contain the rank-and-file militancy. So the union bureaucracy and representative function (which benefits bosses/ capital more than it does workers) somehow generally ends up selecting a leader who is able to perform the task of keep the union active in mediating class struggle- basically you end up with a leader who will have enough support from members to serve the interests of the bureaucrats (and by extension, ensure capitalist social relations).

I still have a lot I don't understand about how trade unions actually function. How does a union boss get selected?

Sorry if this is a derail or a bit garbled.

(edit- thanks Ocelot for helping me get some of my thoughts in order with your quotes and responses to my post)

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2014 17:40
A Wotsit wrote:
Steven. wrote:
So I think that it was not the case that Crow's militancy spurred on the membership, more that his membership is just particularly militant

Ah, I was not aware of this (thinking of it my impression of Bob Crow driving RMT militancy was probably mostly gleaned from the capitalist press- oops).

that's always the case! The media report "militant" union bosses calling out reluctant members, when it is almost always the opposite.

Quote:
So if the case is that Bob Crow was actually a dampener on RMT rank-and-file militancy (which seems to be implied by this calling-off strikes behaviour), does it perhaps follow that the members will now get a similarly more-militant-than-average union boss?

as Jim says, it is not quite that simple, but basically yes. His replacement will probably be from the pool of the current leadership, who are generally quite a bit more left and militant than other unions. Others are more hardline than Crow as well.

Quote:
This is based on my assumption that union bosses (as with politicians) always act against interests of working class, to contain and manage (or straight-up oppress) the struggle, but have to been seen to be acting in their interest (with 'spectacular' struggle and appropriation of the language of struggle but actively only pursuing reforms, at best, or open repression legitamised with poisonous ideology, like nationalism, at worst).

So more militancy/ class solidarity among members = more 'class conscious' leaders (who are better placed to legitimise actions to dampen or contain rank-and-file militancy).

Reason anyone seemingly militant gets selected is cuz else leadership would not have enough credibility among members and therefore be unable to manage and contain the rank-and-file militancy. So the union bureaucracy and representative function (which benefits bosses/ capital more than it does workers) somehow generally ends up selecting a leader who is able to perform the task of keep the union active in mediating class struggle- basically you end up with a leader who will have enough support from members to serve the interests of the bureaucrats (and by extension, ensure capitalist social relations). I still have a lot I don't understand about how trade unions actually function. How does a union boss get selected?

This is basically right, however it does all happen due to the structure, not due to conspiracy. General secretaries are selected by elections, so a more militant membership will elect a more militant leader.

Although as with parliamentary elections, unions are big organisations, and so it is very difficult for someone from the rank and file to challenge someone already in the leadership, or being backed by the existing leadership, simply because they will be unable to communicate with the membership who could elect them. So normally general secretaries either win elections when they stand, or get to pick their successors when they leave. So Dave Prentis always gets re-elected, even though he calls off so much action voted for by Unison members, because basically no one knows who anyone running against him is - and there are over 1 million voters who a rank-and-file candidate would have to try to get to to get elected.

A Wotsit's picture
A Wotsit
Offline
Joined: 14-11-11
Mar 12 2014 17:48

A right, thanks Jim, this is helpful. Must remember to generally avoid thinking in binary terms.

edit cross-post: and thanks Steven too, very helpful. Yes I was struggling to paint the process as a systemic thing (a product of social relations and organisational form) but I do recognise it as such.

syndicalist
Offline
Joined: 15-04-06
Mar 12 2014 19:39

Thanks for the informative stuff.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Mar 14 2014 20:15
Chilli Sauce wrote:

All that said, you do have to give credit where credit is due and he was the only modern trade union officer who I've ever actually seen make any class argument in the press.

Here's the interview I was thinking of, FWIW:

Battlescarred
Offline
Joined: 27-02-06
Mar 14 2014 20:28

"We want managers to manage" (quote) ??????

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Mar 15 2014 07:48

No-body has mentioned the possible effect on TUSC and NO2EU which relied heavily upon Bob Crow and the pull he had in the RMT to support those.

I think their demise are now on the cards too.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 15 2014 12:45
ajjohnstone wrote:
No-body has mentioned the possible effect on TUSC and NO2EU which relied heavily upon Bob Crow and the pull he had in the RMT to support those.

I think their demise are now on the cards too.

TBH this was only a matter of time anyway

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Mar 15 2014 15:28

Entertaining (if flawed) obit from Mark Steele:

All those touchy-feely baristas need someone like Bob Crow fighting for their right to behave like normal people

What a shame Bob Crow will never get to read the tributes paid to him, especially those written by Conservatives that tended to go: “He was honest, loyal, charming and will be sorely missed. It’s true we had our disagreements, such as when I referred to him as a communist terrorist Luddite whore hell-bent on torturing decent commuters like a cockney Spanish Inquisition, a one-man North Korea who must be boiled in mercury on live television if we’re ever to run an Underground train again without deferring to his squalid Bolshevik thuggery. But that doesn’t detract from his personal good grace and he is a sad loss to public life.”...

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Mar 15 2014 23:33

From our 'obit' for Benn and Crow, out soon:

"Bob Crow, a man who worked on the railways from the age of 16 and lived in a council house despite his £133,000 a year as RMT chief executive, has the reputation of old style radical trade unionist and is credited with the fact that his members have above average pay. He led the union away from the Labour Party in 2004 and the Labour transport secretary, Alistair Darling refused to meet him for 18 months. Aside from that piece of theatre he had the reputation of a very good negotiator with great attention to detail. He described himself as always ready to call a strike, but these were limited token strikes, always secondary to negotiation while enough to keep up his militant reputation. As the Economist states “he did not pick fights he could not win: many of his “victories” were in reality careful compromises” (15-21 March 2014) and despite his reputation he was also “all in favour of co-operating with management” (Bob Crow interview December 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/dec/13/bob-crow-strikes-rmt-uni...). So was it his militancy that led to rail and tube workers getting above average pay? Here both Crow and the Economist are in agreement that the nature of the industry was key. “Few workers are in the position that RMT members are. Becoming a train driver means hurdling remarkable barriers to entry, which helps keep wages high. And transport, unlike car manufacturing or coal mining, cannot be exported overseas” (Economist) and “It's not the same playing field, I will accept. Working on the railway compared to working in a call centre”, (Bob Crow interview December 2010). It is not that workers with a militant union get better pay, but that the bourgeoisie need an apparently militant union leader to keep a militant section of the working class in line".

jolasmo
Offline
Joined: 25-12-11
Mar 16 2014 15:50
ajjohnstone wrote:
No-body has mentioned the possible effect on TUSC and NO2EU which relied heavily upon Bob Crow and the pull he had in the RMT to support those.

I think their demise are now on the cards too.

Yeah, but then they're a total fucking irrelevance right?

~J.

wojtek
Offline
Joined: 8-01-11
Mar 16 2014 19:03

http://www.ilera-directory.org/15thworldcongress/files/papers/Track_2/Po...