Bob Crow’s death is a shock – he was only 52 – but it also signals the end of old-school style union operating. Crow was a real old-fashioned union boss. He cared only about the deals for his workers, not the wider party political machinations that other leaders such as Len McCluskey and Paul Kenny like to embroil themselves in.
As Ed wrote in March, he focused on the interests of working people without much regard to anything else, including regular rage from commuters. His union was the first to be booted out of the Labour party after a series of rows which culminated in RMT refusing to sever links with the Scottish Socialist Party in 2004. Thus RMT became even more focused on its members and less on party politics. If you’re Tube driver, you’d have every reason to thank Crow for the fruits of that focus, with the four-year £52,000 basic pay deal that he and two other unions negotiated in 2011. When that deal was agreed, Crow said:
‘We have shown that fighting trade unionism is the best defence from attacks on jobs and individuals.’
Whatever you thought of Crow’s priorities, you can’t argue that he didn’t do the central job of a union boss in getting the very best deal for his members. So trade unionism hasn’t just lost a colourful, recognisable character (how many trade unionists end up on Have I Got News For You?), but an old-fashioned campaigner too.