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Gavin Haynes Sleepless Nights

Bob Crow Was OK with Being Hated

And in today's smarmy political landscape, that's what made him so powerful.

Collage by Marta Parszeniew (Bob Crow image via)

Simply put, he was the Cat Bin Lady of trade unionism. The man who knew what it was to be viscerally hated by hundreds upon thousands of Londoners. To be public enemy number one to millions who’d squidged their way onto the last 135 out of Limehouse, to those who’d become a kind of suited and booted jam that didn’t so much "get off" buses as ooze out of them and gradually re-inflate, blinking, gasping and attempting to re-acclimatise to a normal life after what they'd been put through just to get to work. All those people who walked three miles in heels because the buses rolling past were so morbidly obese they should’ve had their own Channel 5 shows: They all knew one name to hate. And they prayed, whenever a tube strike was on, that this God Of Fuck would be smited.


Bob Crow, somewhere in RMT HQ, perhaps felt a prickle on the back of his neck on days like this. I like to imagine him, like those fabled medieval princes who dressed up as paupers, going out in disguise in the midst of the latest RMT strike, to look upon all the havoc he had wrought, and perhaps give a chuckle as he squeezed another flustered recruitment consultant ever deeper into the 272 with the momentum of his hammy bulk. On those days, he was an iconic bogeyman, always there with a quote that could send the frothing machine into frothing overdrive. And seemingly always ready to play up to that stereotype, on behalf of those whose interests he so zealously served.

Bob Crow was OK with being hated. And in the modern world, where we’re all taught to be cuddly softies, that made him very powerful. When she died, many suggested that Margaret Thatcher wouldn’t even make it to the top of the Tory Party nowadays. She just wasn't smarmy enough. As ideology has become backgrounded, the only thing left to put marks in your plus column is chummy nice-guy status. Hence a run of leaders who all exhibit the same weird sucked lozenge features of people who’ve been assembled by focus groups. Who all exhibit the ability to "be the kind of guy people would want to go for a beer with", which, paradoxically, often means no one would want to go for a beer with any of these people because they’re so gormless that you’re not sure they’d know which end to drink it out of.

Nice guys don’t always finish last, but they do often have their shoes pissed on by other guys who are prepared to play up to their reputations as scowling Cockney bruisers who ain’t taking it off of no one. Bringing his members out on strikes that often felt like they were kneecapping London guaranteed that, unless TfL engaged in a real Thatcherite us-or-them war of elimination, he could command much higher wages than anyone in the higher end of society wanted him to. The success of his works can in part be gauged by the voice that comes on the tannoy any time you break down somewhere between Vauxhall and Stockwell: the dropped aitches, the glottal stops. Tube drivers at times seem to be the last living Cockney principality. These are the people who still prize their jobs in a way that most working men and women in the capital have long forgotten, the last who are not being undercut by the latest wave of EU additions, and who have consequently hung on to their line of work with sharp-elbowed tenacity.

Somehow, though, this thought never registered with his critics in the capital. Londoners, used to everything on tap, saw only the inconvenience. Londoners, used to being undercut by the next guy, saw only the protectionism. Instead, people heading off to eat shit at Boots for £6.75 an hour decried the selfishness of these drivers. The people whose bosses had told then there was nothing left for a 13th cheque this year (aside from the "executive-retainment packages") spat at the mention of his name, his council house or his tropical holidays. Atomised, scattered, tetchy and afraid, they couldn’t quite get round to see that maybe they would be better off with a Bob Crow of their own as the combative figurehead of the £6.75-an-hour-shitmunching industry. Crow has been cast as "a bit of a dinosaur" simply because balls seem to be extinct. How would you answer the question: Could the masses in this country do with more or less of his kind?

Perhaps, one year on from Maggie, it is time to offer a sort of BBC balance quota by giving him the state funeral that he so clearly deserves, the one that Boris Johnson was obviously implying support for in his fine-sounding tributes this morning. Not a big one, of course. Just an average-sized state funeral. He wouldn’t have wanted too much fuss. Just the Archbishop Of Canterbury. Some heads of state. The old 21-gun salute. A troop of Royal Guards on horseback. Then shove him in Westminster Abbey, somewhere between David Livingstone and Sir Isaac Newton. Beyond his peerless achievements in holding back the tide of globalisation, it would be a sentimental final journey. You know, a chance for him to bring central London – a place, with its endless glass coffee boxes and empty homes, that now knows what happens when you surrender to turbocapitalism – to a grinding halt, one last time.