Fellow unionists and politicians, including Boris Johnson, pay tribute to union leader who was ‘a fighter and a character’
Bob Crow, the tireless and often confrontational leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, has died at the age of 52.
In a brief statement, the RMT said: “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.”
Early reports suggest that he died at Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone, east London, after suffering an aneurysm and a heart attack.
Crow’s older brother Richard described him as a “lovable little rogue” and said he had learnt of his death early on Tuesday morning.
“It was about 7am that I got the call,” he told Sky News. “I presume some time in the night he had some problems. We’re really trying to find out exactly what happened.”
Richard Crow said his brother was a man who had believed in justice and “looked after the people he was supposed to look after”.
“People moaned that he lived in a council house, that he never drove a car; he lived a life of the average guy in the street and that’s a rare thing these days.
"When people have a high office in life they fall for the big trappings of the flash cars and the big hotels and big houses. But Bob wasn’t like that, he was a genuine person of the people.”
Tributes to Crow, who had recently clashed with the London mayor, Boris Johnson, over the future of the London Underground, were led by the city’s former mayor.
Ken Livingstone said Crow had “fought really hard for his members” despite being demonised by the rightwing press.
Speaking of his shock at the news, he said: “I assumed he would be at my funeral, not me at his.”
Livingstone told Sky News: “He fought really hard for his members. The only working-class people who still have well-paid jobs in London are his members.”
He said Crow was “broadly right on most key issues”, adding that if more people had fought for the conditions of the working classes “this country would be a much better place. With the passage of time people will come to see that people like Bob Crow did a very good job.”
In a statement, Johnson said he had been shocked to learn of the death of “a fighter and a man of character”.
He added: “Whatever our political differences, and there were many, this is tragic news. Bob fought tirelessly for his beliefs and for his members. There can be absolutely no doubt that he played a big part in the success of the tube, and he shared my goal to make transport in London an even greater success. It’s a sad day.”
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said: “Bob Crow was a major figure in the labour movement and was loved and deeply respected by his members.
"I didn’t always agree with him politically but I always respected his tireless commitment to fighting for the men and women in his union. He did what he was elected to do, was not afraid of controversy and was always out supporting his members across the country.”
A spokesman for David Cameron said the prime minister expressed his sincere condolences to Crow’s family and friends.
Crow was one of the most high-profile leftwing union leaders of his generation, prompting as much anger from passengers hit by rail and tube strikes, as praise from his members for winning pay rises.
He was constantly involved in industrial disputes and campaigns and led a strike by London Underground workers last month in a dispute over ticket-office closures.
The straight-talking south Londoner was also a passionate supporter of Millwall football club.
Crow, who became leader of the RMT in 2002, left school at 16 to work on the railways. His first job was on London Underground as an apprentice track worker, although he soon got involved in union activity, becoming a local representative for the then National Union of Railwaymen at 20.
By then he had already been given the union’s youth award, handed to him by veteran general secretary Jimmy Knapp, and was soon to rise through the ranks, via the executive, to the top job.
His formative years were at a time when unions had huge power and influence in the country, thanks to leaders such as Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon and Joe Gormley.
Under his leadership, membership of the RMT increased by more than 20,000 to 80,000, embracing workers ranging from seafarers and rail staff to cleaners.
He spoke at rallies and meetings most weekends, and was always in demand to support campaigns.
Crow’s militancy, and his decision to continue to live in a council house when he earned £145,000 a year, made him a bete noire for rightwing commentators.
Last month, the Daily Mail challenged him on his decision to take an expensive holiday to Brazil in the runup to a tube strike. “What do you want me to do?” he replied. “Sit under a tree and read Karl Marx every day?”
Crow’s death caused shockwaves in the trade union movement.
Sir Brendan Barber, chairman of the conciliation service Acas and a former TUC general secretary, described Crow as “one of trade unionism’s larger-than-life characters, always battling with passion and energy for his members”.
He added: “His bluff exterior masked a shrewd and intelligent negotiator who actually won high respect from employers as well as deep loyalty and support from his members.”
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, who stood on picket lines with Crow during last month’s tube strike, said: “Bob Crow was admired by his members and feared by employers, which is exactly how he liked it. It was a privilege to campaign and fight alongside him because he never gave an inch.”
Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish TUC, said Crow had led the RMT with “courage and distinction”, adding that he would be missed “not just by his own members but by trade unionists across Scotland and the whole of Britain”.
It is understood that Millwall football club will include a tribute to Crow in its programme for the game against Charlton on Saturday.