General Secretary

April 2014

Tribute to Bob Crow, 13 June 1961 - 11 March 2014

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Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT Trade Union sadly passed away at the young age of 52 on 11 March 2014.

Bob was elected as the RMT General Secretary in 2002 and was labelled by some sections of the media a member of the “awkward squad”. I got to know Bob over the years and shared many platforms with him. He was a man of integrity and passion who was hounded by the press. They not only hounded him unfairly but his family as well. I will remember him fondly as an individual that was caring and passionate not just about his members in the RMT but workers on the whole.

I considered Bob Crow to be a friend but he was also a friend to the whole movement. His union was a good supporter of the POA; he attended our annual conference and spoke on a couple of occasions. He was an intelligent man who used the anti-trade union legislation extremely well to the benefit of his members.

Often criticised for strike action but if you actually analyse the disputes there were not many strikes because many of the issues reached a negotiated settlement before any action was considered. As many political commentators recognised; he knew how to ruffle feathers but was also very astute in coming to deals with employers. His input into the broader trade union movement was second to none.

He will be sadly missed not only by his members in the RMT, but by lots of working class people in Great Britain and throughout the world. Quite rightly, praise came from all quarters. Bob Crow was a fighter for what he believed in and the British Trade Union movement should be grateful for the legacy that he leaves. The word ‘legend’ has been used in respect of Bob Crow and I cannot think of a more fitting tribute because the man was a legend and his memory will live on and inspire others.

Tony Benn

In the same week, on14 March 2014, another legend died; POA Honorary Life Member, Tony Benn. Tony Benn was born on 3 April 1925 and was a British Labour Politician for 47 years. He served as a Cabinet Minister under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember speaking to Tony Benn after he read an article I wrote on the lead up to the Tolpuddle Festival in Dorset. He didn’t realise I was from Greenock in Scotland and informed me that when he was a young boy he lived in Greenock as his father William Wedgwood Benn was in politics in the Greenock area for a short period. He always had time for a discussion. Tony was probably the only politician that appealed to all generations. Young and old listened to him.

I watched him hold court with students and pensioners, the unemployed and trade union activists. He was respected by all. He was one of few politicians who received a standing ovation at our annual conference. Like Bob Crow, Tony Benn was a champion of working class people and trade unions. He was never embarrassed in the company of trade union members. He attended Durham Miners’ Gala for decades and Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival. He was a frequent speaker at Glastonbury and antiwar demonstrations. In his retirement and final years he continued to champion the underdog. He believed in social justice. A compassionate man who fought for what he believed in. A true man of character who wasn’t afraid of the word ‘socialism’. He was a man of principle. If only we had more politicians with the integrity and intelligence of Tony Benn I am sure Great Britain and the world would not only be a safer place but a better, and fairer place for all.

The future

A sad week to lose such giants in the political world and trade union movement but life goes on and the struggle for justice goes on for all workers and their families. As others before them, these individuals have given us a platform to move forward from and we can have a better, fairer society now and in the future for our children and their children after that. It will be a hard struggle but it can be achieved and POA members can be rightly proud of the contribution they have made in the struggles for justice over the years.

That is why we need to keep the pressure on. One of the main reasons I proposed a political strategy on the run up to the next election in 2015 is because political parties who form Government then go on to make decisions that affect our members and their families. We must strive to influence those decisions by making sure our voice is heard and ensure that political parties are committed to change through pledges in their respective manifestos.

That is why our march and rally on 19 March 2014 was so important. It was essential we had a good turnout. POA members turned out in their hundreds to march proudly from Whitehall, past Downing Street and through to the Central Methodist Hall where a variety of politicians, trade unionists, pressure groups addressed our rally.

deliberately recommended to the National Executive Committee that we commence our campaign on budget day to ensure that all members of parliament were targeted because they would all be available in the House of Commons when our members came calling. Our members did lobby their Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. It was a tremendous day where our members turned out at our request and I am grateful for that.

It should never have been in doubt; as whenever we ask our members to do anything they always oblige. A foundation has been built now we need to work in the coming months because there is unfinished business in order to achieve justice for our members in the POA.

Support our campaign

Work is already continuing on our campaign. Over the next year that will mean that we will call on our membership to participate fully in putting pressure on politicians who will be seeking your vote as well as your families vote in the coming General Election. Every branch throughout the United Kingdom needs to organise and campaign. The NEC will give each member and branch the tools for the ongoing campaign but it needs full participation from each member in order for it to be successful irrespective of where your employment happens to be. The POA is one trade union with members covering the whole of the UK and we are a diverse union with members in prisons, secure special hospitals, immigration, courts and even police stations.

Public and private sector prisons

I read different social media websites and see divisions between our members working for different employers. Let me once again make this absolutely clear, like I did in my article for December 2013, every POA member, irrespective of who happens to be their employer, or wherever they happen to work, whether it is within the prison estate or elsewhere, will get the same level of representation.

There should be no division at all. I reiterate that the blame for privatisation of public services rests at the door of successive governments, not the employees or indeed the private fi rms.

This Union believes in publicly run services whether that be prisons, our NHS, water, gas, or electricity or indeed our railways. It doesn’t mean there needs to be one section of members saying they are better than another section. That is exactly what government wishes to achieve. The POA will continue to campaign for publicly-run services and we will criticise all employers, not just private sector employers, but also NOMS if it is justified as we have done in the past.

 

 

Steve Gillan
POA General Secretary

 

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