Friday 14 March 2014

Bob Crow, Greek God?

This week two pillars of the British Left died. One, Tony Benn, was in his 80s. The other was Bob Crow, a 52-year-old active Trade Unionist of exceptional effectiveness. Because the refined Benn gets lots of praise and the rough Crow doesn't, here, in the spirit of obituary, are 10 facts about crows.

• Crows are intelligent, the equal of all apes in tool creation, visual recognition and abstract thought.
  Unusually for birds, crows play and enjoy sporting activities.
• Crows are strong, stout and possess what are perceived as raucous voices. The first ancient Greek barracking barrister was nicknamed Korax, or ‘Crow.’
• The old English collective noun for a flock of crows is a ‘murder’ of crows.
• Crows are loyal, marry for life, and defend their own families and ‘murder’ members to the death.
• Crows are cooperative, travel in groups, and congregate for daily parliaments and to roost together.
• Crows are not territorial as individuals or couples; nests are only temporary shelters for rearing young.
• Crows sun themselves.
• Crows are vilified by humans in many languages, cultures, and myth systems as dirty, ugly, ill-mannered, threatening, noisy, pushy and greedy. A favourite ancient Greek way of being rude to someone was to tell them to “Go To The Crows.”
Bob Crow as a Crow, copyright G. Poynder 2014

• The brilliant General Secretary of the British Rail, Maritime & Transport Union, who died suddenly this week, was called Bob Crow. He was highly intelligent, loved sport, was strong, stout and possessed of a stentorian voice. His union was not described as a ‘murder’ but usually as ‘a gang of mindless thugs’ or ‘set of dinosaurs.’ He was loyal to his class. He was highly collaborative, and congregated for daily parliaments. He lived in a council house, not (as alleged by the mainstream press) because the rent was inexpensive but because he believed in solidarity with the under-privileged and had no territorial desire to feather his own palazzo.
Self-Styled*Greek God* with a Sense of Humour
Crow liked package holidays and sunning himself (once claiming that he didn’t have to use sun cream because he was ‘a Greek god.’ This was a joke at the expense of his own appearance, although the British press claimed it was evidence of megalomania). He liked good food and wine and when photographed in restaurants by the right-wing press said, reasonably enough, that he saw no reason why the working class should not have the same access to them as anyone else. But he was universally vilified by journalists who serve the rich and privileged as diabolically dirty, ugly, ill-mannered, threatening, noisy and pushy etc.

This is an ancient formulaic set of insults levelled at everyone who has questioned social unfairness throughout history: Thersites in the Iliad, Cleon in Thucydides and Aristophanes, just for starters. The polemic, outrageously, seeks to deny people the political rights to campaign for their class on class-based aesthetic grounds.

Finally, not a fact but a subjective opinion. I talked at length with Bob Crow in the 1980s. I didn’t like him personally. I suspect it was mutual. But I would have trusted him to defend my employment rights, and to stand by his word, more than anyone else I have met.I also wonder whether people would have reacted to him differently if his name was Bob Nightingale.

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