Bob Crow: Socialist, Leader, Fighter: A Political Biography, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017; 264pp.: ISBN 978152610029, 20 [pounds sterling] (hb)
In the introduction to this biography of one of the most significant UK trade union leaders of the recent past Gregor Gall is very clear in his intention. This is to situate Crow as a leader in a symbiotic relationship with his members and within a framework of the balance of class forces and power in which he and the union he represented are active agents shaping the times as well as being shaped by them. In doing so, he is explicit in his use of a 'critical Marxism' which draws on elements of John Kelly's work on militancy and more specific arguments about the significance of leadership in general and Crow's of the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) in particular. He adds to this an early discussion of what might be called 'the peculiarities' of the union and its political relationships.
The book proceeds with a largely chronological account of Crow's career before returning to analysis and assessment in the concluding chapters. Beginning with Crow's formative years and the influence of his communist father and working-class London environment Gall records a 'political epiphany' when he joined the union and became a representative of workers on the London Underground. This brief review is followed by a chapter on the 1990s that culminates in Crow's election to Assistant General Secretary in the RMT but also underlines what Gall sees as a pragmatic negotiators outlook in his practice as against the often-quoted rhetoric. He also draws attention to his 'industrial' base in the London Underground and some attention to his relationship with the political left inside and outside the union.
Gall then goes on to document Crow's election to RMT General Secretary and his relationship with his predecessor, Jimmy Knapp, which he suggests influenced Crow's decisions in this respect. This chapter also looks at relationships beyond the confines of the union, which Crow led through a substantial reorganisation, to the break with the Blair-led Labour Party. Crow's further periods of office as General Secretary are then chronicled through detailing specific policies in relation to the EU; the union's expulsion from the Labour Party and the attempts to build a united left alternative, as well as the relationships with other unions within the transport industry...