Shock as RMT announces death of Bob Crow

There was shock across the political landscape today after the RMT union announced that its leader, Bob Crow, had died at the age of 52.

Crow was a hugely influential figure in the trade union landscape and one of the most militant of the modern crop of union leaders.

He passed away at Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone after suffering an aneurysm and heart attack.

"It is with the deepest regret that RMT has to confirm that our general secretary Bob Crow sadly passed away in the early hours of this morning," a statement said.

"The union’s offices will be closed for the rest of the day and the union will make further announcements in due course. The media have been asked to respect the privacy of Bob's friends and family at this difficult and distressing time."

Crow recently came under fire in the press for taking a holiday while his members prepared to go on strike over plans to close London underground ticket offices.

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who regularly came into conflict with him during his time at City Hall, said Crow was unfairly maligned.

"With the passage of time, people will come to see that people like Bob Crow are demonised in the right-wing press," he said.

"His members are one of the few groups of working class people who have still got well paid jobs."

Livingstone later told the World at One that the "endless strain of being a media hate figure" had taken its toll on Crow and "may have been a factor" in his death.

He was joined by current mayor Boris Johnson. In a statement Mr Johnson said: "I am shocked. Bob Crow was a fighter and a man of character."

Ed Miliband, who has previously distanced himself from the RMT, which is not affiliated to the Labour party, said Crow was "loved" by his members.

"Bob Crow was a major figure in the labour movement and was loved and deeply respected by his members," he said.

"I didn't always agree with him politically but I always respected his tireless commitment to fighting for the men and women in his union. He did what he was elected to do, was not afraid of controversy and was always out supporting his members across the country.

"He was a passionate defender of and campaigner for safe, affordable public transport and was a lifelong anti-fascist activist.

"My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues in the RMT and wider union movement at this difficult time."

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said that Crow's beliefs were "common sense".

"A lot of what Bob Crow said seems radical now, but a generation ago it would have been plain common sense – that you get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, that a living wage is one that allows someone to live with dignity, that decisions should be taken for the common good and not for the benefit of a privileged few."

Fellow union leaders also paid tribute to Crow.

"This is shocking news. Bob was an outstanding trade unionist, who tirelessly fought for his members, his industry and the wider trade union movement," TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack added: "Bob's passing is very sad news and the thoughts of firefighters will be with his family.

"Bob was a good friend to me personally and to the Fire Brigades Union as a whole.

"He was a strong leader for the labour movement and he’ll be sorely missed by those who knew him."

Even Crow's opponents praised him. Former Transport for London HR Director Frank Douglas applauded Crow's dedication to his members.

"In spite of his public persona, he did what his membership paid him to do: get the best deal for them that he could," Douglas told HR Magazine.

"In performance management we focus on the individual meeting their objectives. In Bob's case you would objectively have to say, for his members, he always met or exceeded his."

Campaigners against trade union powers also praised Crow.

"Bob and I didn’t agree politically, but, you have to respect Bob because he did fight hard for his beliefs and for his members," Conservative MP and chairman of the Trade Union Reform Campaign David Morris said.