Tuesday 11 March 2014

Bob Crow: union man

Bob Crow.  The man who rejoiced at the death of Mrs Thatcher, she who put a generation of working class people on the housing ladder, ensuring their children had something to inherit - and did not have to work down a coal pit and die early of lung disease.  Of the two, Mrs Thatcher did more for the working and aspirational classes than he who heaped endless misery and expense on aspirational people who were simply trying to get to work and earn a days pay. 

Crow spoke often of the rights of "the workers", but it was "the workers" who ultimately paid the price for his obstinate grandstanding.  And now that London Underground wages are unsustainable, his membership will be joining the dole queue sooner than they anticipated as their jobs are replaced by robots.

That said, few can say in the modern era that they were represented according to their views and ideals as well as those who followed Bob Crow.  He was anything but mealy mouthed, and refreshingly unconcerned by media image.  Unlike our modern political class, he set out his stall and brought people to him - rather than swaying whichever way the wind blows.  You don't have to respect the man's politics but there is something laudable about a man who knows his mind - and stands his ground. He did what he was elected to do. That is uncommon.

Some say that his continued occupancy of social housing, while on a salary that would make an IT consultant blush, made him little better than an NHS bed blocker.  But his view was that a decent home was an entitlement of everyone.  He lived by his own values.

He certainly wasn't the pantomime bad guy or folk-demon the Daily Mail would have us believe, but he was an economic illiterate, a Luddite and a yob. (Rejoicing in the death of anyone is an ugly trait.)  The bottom line is, he was just an ordinary Londoner of his age, and not a very bright one.  He was old enough to have lived through the worst days of British socialism, yet lacked the intelligence to see why his ideas failed, and he would have taken us back to those dark days in a heartbeat.

But beneath all that, if you can see past the persona, there was a man who genuinely cared for the vulnerable, as per his stance on the closure of ticket offices.  I happen to think that his final campaign against the closures was the right call, and for once in my life I found myself on the side of strikers.  It was a reminder that while we have put unions in their rightful place, we still need them and they do have a part to play in a democracy, inconvenient though they may be at times.

Crow was one of a dying breed and very much the embodiment of the old left, and the Left were lucky to have him.  I cannot think of an equal on the other side of the divide.  Who speaks for the right as Crow did for the left?  Answers on a postcard please...

52: No age to go

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