Today, Joe Owens would have celebrated his 45th birthday. He was just a few days older than I am.
Joe died a couple of weeks ago in mysterious circumstances, probably in Newport bus station, on the Isle of Wight.
Joe was an ex-miner from Scotland who took up a new career as a journalist after he lost his mining job after the great miners’ strike of 1984-5. You can read a fuller account of his remarkable life written by one of Joe’s friends, here on the Scotsman.com website.
Reading this report I can see that Joe was a leading member of Militant Tendency and a real character at Labour Party Young Socialists events. I got active in politics just after this time, and thus missed seeing Joe at those events. Friends of mine were engaged in a factional battle with Militant inside the LPYS, and probably have their own memories of Joe!
I met Joe one afternoon this summer on the Isle of Wight. It was 12th August, the first of the two national days of action in support of Vestas workers. After leafleting at different sites around the Island throughout the day, supporters convened in the evening in East Cowes. We had a swift march around the block, and ended up at the rooftop occupation of the Venture Quays Vestas site.
During the march, Joe and I found ourselves in step beside each other. We quickly discovered that we were both journalists by trade, members of the NUJ, and ‘Trots’ of one description or another – me in Workers’ Liberty and him in – or having been in – Militant. And, of course, we were both people not from the Isle of Wight but finding ourselves there supporting the Vestas workers – who are, after all, our countrymen and women, and, more broadly than that, members of the international working class.
At Venture Quays I got caught up with the work of photographing the unfurling of the magnificent new banner, recording Seize the Day playing “Boys on the Balcony” and so on, and I didn’t see Joe again.
In my very short meeting with him I got the impression of a kind and patient man and, as certainly befits a journalist, one who listens to whoever he is with. I’m very sorry not to have had the chance to get to know him better and shocked at the way he has been taken away from us all so early.
Wherever we are today – the Isle of Wight, Copenhagen, in my own case, Harrow, demonstrating against the hateful English Defence League – I hope we can find time to think about Joe Owens and the traditions he stood in.