"I think like everyone I was shocked yesterday morning to learn of the sudden death of RMT Railway union leader Bob Crow. I was actually on a train at the time when I heard the news, the same line on which I occasionally use to see Bob while he was on his way home to his East London social house that the media used to hate so much.
Like many trade unionists I was a huge admirer of what he was able to achieve for his members even though I didn’t always agree with everything he said.
Inside Housing has asked me what union housing representatives can learn from his example.
I think a huge amount. I won’t pretend that unions in the housing sector have the industrial muscle and bargaining power that the rail unions have, since they have the ability to bring their industry very quickly to an absolute halt. There are at least three lasting interrelated legacies I think that Bob leaves to us.
First and foremost Bob believed that you must have a strong collective voice to stand up for your rights at work. The interests of the employer and the employees are not always the same and if you are passive and do nothing, then don’t be surprised if you get walked all over. There is a massive power imbalance in the workplace and strong, independent and accountable trade unions are needed to tackle this imbalance and restore equilibrium.
The second legacy from Bob is union density. Bob knew what our grandmothers and grandfathers knew and has now been often sadly forgotten. It is very simple but true. The more of us in the union - the better the deal we will get. Bob drove up union density in the RMT and increased his bargaining power so all members benefited. It is indeed the case that workers are ‘Better Together’.
The third legacy to housing unions is what I would call adopting the Bob Crow mind set. That housing workers must be prepared to fight and take industrial action if necessary. Industrial action can take many forms but you must consider the ultimate weapon of strike action. It is no use just complaining about cuts in your salary or pension, reductions in sick pay or unfair redundancies. All of us must be prepared to stand up and do something about it.
Never forget you cannot depend on employment law or your employer to protect you at work. You can only depend on your fellow workers and your union.
Last night I was at a Unison regional meeting representing housing workers and it was proposed that we send the RMT and his family our condolences and we should hold a minutes silence for Bob. I suggested that a minutes silence would not be apt for Bob and that instead we should all stand up together and make passionate speeches for a minute instead. We decided to send condolences.
John Gray is a housing officer and Unison committee member"