Jack Owen was born in 1887 and started work, aged 14. He would later write that: “since a kid of 14 years of age, when I put on dungarees and proudly displayed a foot rule, I was taught to regard the boss as the enemy”. He joined the South Salford branch of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1903, the same year he became an engineering apprentice, when he signed up with the Associated Society of Engineers (ASE), later to be part the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), of which he was a life-long member.
His union gave him a chance to attend Ruskin College, Oxford, where he became a part of the 1909 student strike that prompted the formation of the Central Labour College. After that, he went on to become the first Lancashire organiser of the Plebs League, which emerged from the strike in November 1909 and which took its name from the journal established by the famous Rhondda syndicalist Noah Ablett in February of that year. In 1911, Owen was a delegate to the Manchester Conference on Industrial syndicalism.
In March 1916, he was asked to visit the Clydeside engineering strikers by the Woolwich Arsenal Shop Stewards Committee to report back on the struggle against “dilution” and the subsequent “deportation” with “no charge, no bail, no trial” of the strike leaders. Among these were Arthur McManus and David Kirkwood (the former to become the first Chair of the Communist Party, the latter to become one of the group of Clydeside Labour MPs), both of whom Owen met in Edinburgh, where they had been deported along with other stewards including James M. Messer, S. Shields, J. Haggerty, Harry Glass, G. Kennedy, R.A. Bridges and Thomas Clark.
Owen later became Vice Chairman of Manchester City Labour Party and was elected as a Manchester City Labour Councillor in 1937. But, once elected, he came out vocally and with much publicity to support not only the Daily Worker but also the Communist Party. He joined the staff of the Daily Worker for which he wrote “Workshop Notes” during 1940 and was a member of the editorial board. During the Second World War, Owen seems to have played a key role in the Communist Party’s campaign to boost 100% trade union membership and the struggle to increase production.
n 1943 following a visit to the Clydeside, Owen commented in his pamphlet “Spotlight on the Clyde!” that Glasgow, with 30,000 AEU members and a big boilermakers union membership, “is the keystone of Scotland’s industry and the spearhead of its political thought…No city can boast of a greater proletarian content, nor of workers so alive politically”. ’ for the National Union of Blastfurnacemen, Ore Miners, Coke Workers & Kindred Trades in 1954.
Owen produced numerous pamphlets and some books, mostly associated with the Communist Party, initially using his `Councillor’ title, although this soon ceased, suggesting that at some point during the war, possibly in 1940 which would have been his triennial election date, he was no longer able to claim this role. In addition to his Clyde pamphlet, he produced `Factory Front’ (People’s Convention 1939), `London railway worker’ (London District Communist Party 1941), `London Engineers’ (London District Communist Party 1941), `War in the Workshops’ (L&W 1942), Daily Worker Sixtieth Birthday programme (1946). He also wrote `Ironmen‘.
Owen, who died in March 1957, summed up his life thus: “Through 40 years of industrial life, I have seen them lie, cheat and victimise my mates. It is impossible to go through vicious years without acquiring bitter hatred and a deep sense of solidarity with one’s class.”
Source: `The Communist Party in Manchester 1920-1926’ and other material
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