|Photo by International Transport Workers' Federation|
Bob Crow will undoubtedly be remembered by RMT members for his vigorous defence of their wages and working conditions. The RMT was highly successful in preserving its members’ livelihood. And, of course, every trade union has to focus on the interests of its members. Nevertheless, Bob Crow was also much more.
First, he combined the defence of RMT members with mobilising for wider campaigns. He is credited for his staunch support of the anti-war coalition as well as his anti-fascist engagement. For him the labour movement was always more than the narrow conditions of the workplace. Especially when resisting austerity, larger alliances are essential.
Bob Crow was clearly ahead of his time. As early as at the European Social Forum in London in 2004 he spoke about the real interests behind the push for the privatisation of public services. Short of profitable investment opportunities, private capital pushed for privatisation of the public sector, as this, backed by the state, offered further large and secure profit opportunities. This is, of course, what we face now, when the most profitable parts of the National Health Service, for example, are privatised with large investment funds hovering like vultures above the NHS, ready to snap up whatever is thrown to them.
Bob Crow was a very principled leader. When he realised that New Labour under Tony Blair started the privatisation process in the interest of big business, he led the RMT out of the Labour Party in 2004. While other trade union leaders continued, and still do so today, to support the Labour Party despite of the disappointments of 13 years of New Labour governments, he charted a more radical, independent course forward.
In short, lessons to be learned from Bob Crow are: (1) combine the vigorous defence of your members with larger campaigns, and (2) do not shy away from breaking with the Labour Party, when it becomes clear that it too has put the interests of capital over the interests of working people. The increase in RMT's membership by more than 20,000 to 80,000 under the leadership of Bob Crow makes clear that a more radical strategy pays off. If workers realise that a trade union is serious in its criticisms of the powerful, they are prepared to follow.
Bob Crow will be sorely missed in the forthcoming struggles against austerity!
Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website: http://andreasbieler.net
11 March 2014