Rob Owen (centre) with his pamphlet on West Wales workers' struggles. Photo: Socialist Party Wales
Rob Owen (centre) with his pamphlet on West Wales workers' struggles. Photo: Socialist Party Wales

Jaime Davies, Socialist Party Wales

I was deeply saddened, as were so many comrades in the Socialist Party and the wider labour movement, to hear about the untimely passing of Robert Owen on Christmas Eve, of a fatal heart attack at his home in Baku, Azerbaijan. Rob was born on 13 June 1962 to Gwynfor and Rita, and was the younger brother of Sian and Amanda. Rob grew up in Tumble near Llanelli – he would want you to know that! He affectionately referred to the small mining village as ‘the centre of the universe.’

I first met Rob in 2011, when I was a student at university in Carmarthen. He was the first Marxist I had ever met and was one of the funniest and kindest people I have known. Rob patiently introduced me to the broad subject of sociology, he explained what capitalism was, and what it meant. Most importantly, he introduced me to an alternative, the ideas of Marxism and socialism.

Rob worked as a secondary school teacher and teaching came naturally to him. We found that we had more in common than our favourite football team, the mighty Everton, and we became good friends as well as comrades. Rob had the heart of an explorer and the soul of a poet; this humorous man, seemingly rough around the edges, who once described himself as a “seasoned veteran”, loved English literature.

As for being an explorer, Rob wouldn’t sit still, spending his final years teaching English in Baku. Rob dug out a life for himself in Baku, finding a partner and making friends, no doubt thanks to his bottomless charm and care for others, frighteningly quick and funny wit, and unique charisma.

I knew Rob for just over a decade but his political legacy goes far beyond that and is too extensive to lay out here. However his contribution, particularly in Wales, can’t be overstated. As well as recruiting and developing a layer of younger activists, one of which is now an editor of this newspaper, Rob played an important role building the Socialist Party in west Wales and Cardiff before moving abroad, previously working full-time for the party. Rob also wrote a pamphlet about historic strikes in Ammanford and Llanelli.

During the campaign to defeat Thatcher’s hated Poll Tax he was pivotal in building the confidence of the thousands of working people in Cardiff who refused to pay. The Poll Tax was beaten because millions of people refused to pay it, but to hold them firm it was vital to give them confidence that mass non-payment could win!

Rob spread the message on walls and bridges across the city. He was a vital cog in the Cardiff Federation of Anti-Poll Tax Unions, acting as a ‘MacKenzie Friend’, advising people of their rights in court as they refused to pay. At the magistrate’s court in Caerphilly, Rob was thrown out for being ‘Mick Quinn’, even though he had a passport to prove his identity!

Then there was the time he sold his favourite guitar, to raise money for striking miners, something that really spoke to his sense of duty and solidarity as well as his good-hearted and kind nature.

Rob will be deeply missed by his comrades, his friends and his family.

It is impossible to do justice to the man, writing on a single leaf, but perhaps Socialist Party member Robin Clapp’s words sum it up: “I always enjoyed his company and respected his command of Marxism”. Rob will not rest in peace, Rob will rest in power. Let this account be a comfort to those fortunate to have known him, and an inspiration to those who did not.