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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 16:42 GMT
Golden age for rail, says Crow
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By Ben Davies
BBC News Online political staff
The new leader of the RMT transport union, Bob Crow, believes that socialist principles will prevail - and that this is the best time for 50 years to be working on the railways.
Read any interview with the new leader of the Rail and Maritime union and almost inevitably words like "militancy" and comparisons to industrial unrest in the 1970s will crop up.

The article will probably mention that Bob Crow is a former communist, an admirer of Arthur Scargill and that his office is bedecked with images of leftwing icons from Mao Tse Tung to Che Guevara.

It is the most golden age to work in the railway industry for the last fifty years

Bob Crow
What interviews probably won't convey is that the leader of the union most capable of bringing London and other parts of the UK to a standstill believes that this is a "golden age" for British railways.

Sitting in his office near Euston and St Pancras stations, Crow also angrily rejects suggestions he is a wrecker - the label used by Prime Minister Tony Blair to describe those who resist his plans to reform public services using private firms or money.

Far from it, he says, he has been "constructing" the railways since he joined up as a 16-year-old lad.

Wreckers, he says, are people like James Dyson who took his vacuum cleaner company abroad to Malaysia when he could have continued employing British workers.

Surprisingly gently spoken, Crow says he is a patriot and he clearly cares deeply about his country.

No dispute with passengers

He rejects suggestions that he is holding areas of the UK to ransom whenever his members walk out on strike.

Far more days are lost through accidents at work due to employer negligence than through strike action, he asserts.

"We don't hold people to ransom and we are not in dispute with the individual - we're in dispute with the employer.

"It's very hard in the public sector - when the public sector withdraw their labour it has a direct effect on the public that use it.

Tube drivers have better pay than bus drivers
"We do try our best not to have strikes - there have been no strikes on London Underground for a year the relationship is pretty good and that's the way we want to keep it."

Even so the pay that people like tube drivers can claim is far better than the bus workers who have to deal with London traffic and a sometimes hostile public.

"If the bus drivers can get the same as train drivers if they can get more than train drivers then good luck to them - we'll do anything we can to assist those people."

What I do foresee is a very bad period when these PPPs need paying back over 20 or 30 years

Bob Crow
Crow points to the privatisation of the buses which broke up that section of the industry and meant that bus drivers, who he says historically got more than the tube drivers, started to lag behind.

But regardless of what other people are getting the RMT is determined to fight for the best deal for its workers and striking is an important tool in this process.

'Cradle to the grave'

Crow insists that his union is not a political party and that his job is to articulate his members views - but there is a distinct political agenda.

"I believe in a better society in general - I don't believe that the RMT or any trade union is narrow.

"I believe we should campaign on a broader front: decent national health service, respect and dignity for pensioners in old age, decent pensions, to get kids off the streets with these drugs that they're on at the moment and provide them with better activities.

Tony Blair
Mr Blair's Labour Party has different goals to the RMT
"From the cradle to the grave we believe we should be campaigning on every aspect to try to get a better life in general for people."

Crow insists he is no Utopian however - it is simply that he wants "a decent standard of living, jobs for everyone, decent pensions, decent education and respect and dignity in the work place".

"I am - like all socialists - an optimist. I believe at the end of the day we will see a fairer system and I believe that socialist policies will be the policies that people aspire to eventually.

"I think that people are rejecting privatisation bigtime now."

That obviously prompts the question as to what common ground he has with Mr Blair's Labour Party.

Crow says that there is "nobody at the front at the moment" but mentions the names of a few backbenchers such as John Cryer.

Private sector needed

Unlike the prime minister, the RMT believes in withdrawal from the EU, the introduction of a protectionist economy and cites the introduction of a steel tariff by George W Bush as a recent precedent.

But the union leader insists that his opposition to PPP is not because of opposition to the private sector as a whole.

I honestly do believe that I will see in my lifetime the railways renationalised. I think it'll be sooner rather than later actually

Bob Crow
"We want the private sector to come and build Crossrail, we want the private sector to build the extension to the East London line."

He also recognises that the public sector needs private sector expertise to improve the railways - but once improvements are in place he wants the existing workforce to maintain them.

In a sense it is the potential expansion of the transport infrastructure that gives Crow the greatest cause for optimism.

"It is the most golden age to work in the railway industry for the last fifty years," he said.

"It will be expanded no end but the problem is going to be how it's run, whether there's going to be the ability within a fractured industry of to deliver the services. That's what gives us problems.

"I honestly do believe that I will see in my lifetime the railways renationalised. I think it'll be sooner rather than later actually. "

See also:

13 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Crow is new RMT leader
04 Jan 02 | England
Rail union leader attacked
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Number 10 denies 'wreckers' apology
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