The Haldane Society Salutes Two Giants of the Labour Movement

BOB CROW: trade unionist, socialist, comrade.

13 June 1961 – 11 March 2014

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers is shocked and deeply saddened by the death of Bob Crow, the General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), 2002 – 2014.

The outpouring of grief, sadness and solidarity in response to his death confirms the major impact he had as a trade union leader - one of the best known - for his steadfast approach to standing up for his members and advancing the ideas of socialism. Bob Crow had enormous respect and support, amongst both RMT members and trade union members in general, for his uncompromising position of fighting in the interests of rail workers, for calling for renationalisation of the railways, and for the pride with which he called himself a socialist.

With Bob Crow in the leadership of the RMT, membership had grown from 50,000 to just over 80,000. Ken Livingstone is correct when he says that the only working-class people who still have well-paid jobs in London are his members.  Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, said: “Bob Crow was admired by his members and feared by his employers which is exactly how he liked it.”

If there were more trade union militants like Bob, the battle to stop the cuts and kick out the Coalition Government would be at a much more advanced stage.

Our thoughts are with his family, friends, comrades and RMT members.


Tony Benn: speaking truth to power

3 April 1925 – 14 March 2014

We mourn the passing  of Tony Benn. He was a friend to the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. He spoke at our AGM in 2006 and we sent him copies of Socialist Lawyer.

Much has been written about how Benn's politics shifted. As a Labour Cabinet Minister (1964 – 1970 and 1974 – 1979), his diaries reveal his observationS that the civil service can frustrate the policies and decisions of democratically elected governments, that industrialists and bankers can get their way using the crudest forms of economic pressures, and that the media ensures that events of the day are always presented from the point of view of those who enjoy economic privilege.  Benn believed in absolute, transparent, democracy, exemplified by his well-known five questions to those in power which culminate in “how can we get rid of you?”.

Along with his democratic values was a commitment to real equality, which is why so many people have fond memories of him. He treated everyone as an equal, would respond to any stranger who stopped to talk to him, and was an indefatigable correspondent. Obviously his belief in equality made him a socialist through and through. He also understood and championed campaigns for equal rights which are obvious today, but in the 1970s and 1980s were considered crazy: women's rights, anti-racist campaigns and lesbian and gay rights. That same belief in equality and respect for others informed his work for peace, and his commitment to abolishing nuclear weapons.  He knew all about the horrors of war, having served in the Second World War (and lost his brother in it), and that experience permeated many of his speeches.

Benn believed in solidarity and workers' rights. As MP for Chesterfield during the miners' strike, he regularly attended picket lines and threw himself into speaking and raising money for the miners around the country. Until recently, it was rare to find any trade union picket-line that Benn had not personally visited, with a flask of tea.

Benn had an ability to explain ideas clearly, accessibly and without patronising his audience. That wasn't only because he was a good orator; it was also because he believed in what he was saying. He wasn't parroting a line written by a spin-doctor, or appearing on platforms out of vanity. He knew what he wanted to say, and he said it.

Benn was the leader of a real mass movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The early Thatcher government was intent on breaking the labour movement, and the Labour Party leadership was only too happy to accommodate that view. Benn stood for thousands of trade union activists, of Labour Party members committed to democracy and socialism and for1980s' municipal socialism. He was hated by the ruling class because that movement was a genuine challenge to what we now know as neo-liberalism. There are many “what ifs”: what if Benn's bid for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party had been successful, what if the Labour Party had never allowed itself to be dictated by the media's right-wing agenda, what if the Labour Party had not split, what if the Falklands war had never happened, what if the miners had not been defeated. If Bennism had not been defeated, within the Labour Party and the labour movement, we might be living in a better, more equal society.