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Bob Crow

Bob Crow.

Trade union leader.

Born June 13, 1961 died March 11, 2014.

Bob Crow, who has died aged 52, was the General Secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), a role to which he brought uncompromisingly left-wing views, an enthusiasm for industrial action and a bruiser's manner.

Mr Crow was perhaps the last outstanding example, almost the Platonic ideal, of a breed which most thought - and many hoped - had become extinct during the 1980s.

Like his ideological forebears, such as Derek "Red Robbo" Robinson, Arthur Scargill and Mick McGahey, he incurred opprobrium from politicians, much of the press and large sections of the general public.

London Mayor Boris Johnson called him demented and refused to speak to him; The Times produced an editorial accusing him of being obsessed by class (Mr Crow agreed with the judgment); the London Evening Standard said he was the most hated man in London (Mr Crow disagreed).

To his members, or anyone who held that the purpose of a trade union was to protect and advance its members' pay and conditions, however, Mr Crow could hardly be regarded as anything other than a highly effective and successful leader.

At a time when trades union membership was in decline, the RMT rose from 57,000 members at the time of his election in 2002 to around 80,000 today. Relations with other transport unions, such as Aslef and the TSSA, improved.

Wages across the sector grew by more than inflation, even during the recent downturn, and by last year the average standard pay of London Underground drivers was over £50,000 - against all the trends in both the public and private sectors, he even managed to get Network Rail to reintroduce a final salary pension scheme.

He lent his backing to other industrial disputes, facing down BA, who were trying to get employees to work for nothing.

And although Mr Crow never achieved his ultimate aim of seeing the railways renationalised, he had the satisfaction of seeing track maintenance brought back under Network Rail's control and the East Coast line franchise taken out of private hands.

But for transport managers, politicians and, above all, commuters in London, Mr Crow was a menace.

He could, and frequently did, threaten to bring London to a standstill; one two-day stoppage in 2009 was estimated to have cost British businesses more than £100 million. During the following two years alone, the RMT held more than 100 strike ballots.

Many members of the public had little sympathy for RMT employees, thinking them remarkably well paid, and were outraged when newspapers revealed Mr Crow's own basic salary in 2009 was more than £94,000 - while he continued to occupy a council house. Earlier this year, he was photographed on a three-week cruise from Barbados to Brazil.

Three days after his return, 10,000 RMT members went on strike, causing chaos for transport in London.

Robert Crow was born at Shadwell, East London, on June 13 1961, the younger son of George Crow, a dock worker, and his wife Lillian.

While he was still a toddler, the family moved to Hainault, north-east London, near the border with Essex - and the Central Line's main depot.

Young Bob and his brother Richard attended Kingswood Upper School, the local secondary modern, which Mr Crow left, aged 16, to join London Underground as a teaboy.

Within a year or so he was working for a track maintenance gang, felling trees along the line.

After a dispute with his foreman, Mr Crow, who believed he had been picked on, attended a union branch meeting to complain. He joined the committee and soon became politicised and, in 1983, became a representative for the National Union of Railwaymen.

He also joined the Communist Party of Great Britain. Mr Crow was subsequently to leave the communists for, successively, the Communist Party of Britain (the breakaway group centred around the Morning Star), Mr Scargill's Socialist Labour Party and finally - after flirting with, but not joining, the Socialist Alliance - No2EU, for which he stood in London in the 2009 European elections. He consistently described his politics as "Communist/Socialist".

After the NUR's merger with the National Union of Seamen in 1990, to form the RMT, Mr Crow worked his way up, becoming assistant general secretary in 1994 and, following the death of Jimmy Knapp in late 2001, leader.

Shortly before the election, on New Year's Day 2002, Mr Crow was attacked outside his house by two men armed with an iron bar - an assault which he speculated had been ordered by rail management. In the event, he won with twice as many votes as the other two candidates combined.

Though the restructuring of railways under John Major's government doubled passenger numbers, the Docklands Light Railway has operated for two decades with driverless trains and only a tiny proportion of Underground tickets are now sold at manned ticket windows, Mr Crow resolutely set his face against all such threats to his members.

He was just as steadfastly opposed when challenges came from the Labour government although, on the night of the general election in 1997, he had downed a can of beer for every Tory cabinet minister who lost his seat - "quite a lot".

Mr Crow was, however, soon equally disenchanted by Tony Blair's government.

He ensured John Prescott was expelled from the union because he failed to renationalise the railways (Labour returned the favour by expelling the RMT in 2004), accused Ken Livingstone of betraying his principles (when the then Mayor urged workers to cross picket lines), and described Gordon Brown's call for "British jobs for British workers" as "absolute bull****".

Mr Crow's opposition to the EU was rooted in the belief it was a capitalist conspiracy, rather than because of immigrant workers. "I've got more in common with a Chinese labourer than with Sir Fred Goodwin," he declared.

The parallel was not perhaps exact; his own total remuneration, including bonuses, benefits, expenses and pension rights, was eventually more than £145,000, and two years ago he was reported to have spent £650 on a single lunch.

Mr Crow, with his shaven head, generous proportions and cultivated air of menace, had the general demeanour of a nightclub bouncer.

But he could also be drily entertaining, had a good sense of humour, and was possessed of an astute intelligence. He was a natty dresser (though in casual clothes, rather than suits) and was keen on sport; he was a devoted Millwall fan, followed boxing, and worked out six days a week, as well as playing five-a-side football.

His office was decorated with busts of Marx and Lenin and a poster of Che Guevara. His dog was called Castro.

He is survived by his long-standing partner Nicola Hoarau, manager of the RMT's credit union, and their daughter, by a son from a previous marriage, and two step-daughters.

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