Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In honour of Bob Crow

Bob Crow, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), died early this morning at Whipps Cross Hospital, Leytonstone. His death was unexpected, and this news is all over the media.

I knew Bob personally. He and I were 'dog park friends' (more muddier than, say, 'facebook friends'). We also often met around the streets of our shared local community, sometimes as he walked home from the Tube station. His dog is friends with my dog, Suzie (this sort of thing is always quite important). There's a special bond between dog walkers in a community: we tend to meet each other in all sorts of inclement weather; we see each other with flu, or backache, or other complaints. It's the life of the slave to a canine and we accept it.

But yes, I tend to share Bob's politics as well to a certain degree. I also admired his formidable ability to represent his members and stand up for what he believed in, when neoliberal forces have worked so much to erode that way of living for so many. I also admired his apparent sangfroid, particularly in the face of all the personal attacks he endured. He could also deliver a hilarious deadpan witticism: the one about having to sit under a tree reading Marx for a 'holiday' being an example of that.

Yet my own experience of Bob has also been of a warm, gentle family man who spoke lovingly of his family and his dog, who also had a great generosity of spirit when it came to supporting others in their fights against injustice. I will always be particularly grateful for his support of one of my own undertakings in this context.

I have been researching, and campaigning against, canine breed specific legislation (BSL) for some years now. In 1991, BSL was brought in by a Tory government as a means to distract from their political crisis at the time, to appear 'tough on crime', but on a very soft target. It has caused intense suffering of dogs and their loving owners, is irrational and wasteful of resources (not to mention dogs' lives), and is kept going by successive governments despite the calls for its repeal from the various leading dog welfare and other agencies. It seems to function rather too well as a political red herring, in my opinion.

Bob and I had been talking about this draconian legislation since last year (or rather I had been bending his ear about it in various ways). Having been made aware of the problems, Bob was trying to find ways in which he could help or support people like me in getting the legislation repealed. I also kept him updated with some of the developments in strategies I had undertaken (one in particular on which I am still waiting). Today, I have been hearing about various other ways in which people experienced Bob's kindness and generosity of spirit.

I last saw Bob a couple of weeks ago, outside Londis. He called me Sue. Loads of people do - we all tend to get called by our dogs' names!

I feel privileged to have known him personally, as part of our local community, especially as a fellow dog-walker. I'm also fully aware of his qualities as a formidable political campaigner and union leader who made things difficult for the political elite, and why that was important. I feel that his death is a massive loss, to many of us, on so many levels. There is currently so little political resistance to the neoliberal hegemony that has had us in it's vice-like grip for so long. Bob was one of those stalwarts who was resisting. I hope more of us can be more stalwart in our resistance, but today I, and it's clear a lot of other people, are wrestling with feelings of desolation.

My deepest condolences go to Bob's family, who have suffered the greatest loss.