Socialist Worker

Ken Montague 1946-2016

by Roger Cox and Martin Empson
Issue No. 2534

Ken Montague

Ken Montague (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Ken died after a short struggle with pancreatic cancer. His death—so quick and sudden—leaves many of us who knew him shocked by his loss.

Ken was an active member of the International Socialists and later the Socialist Workers Party. He was an active member of the Natfhe union in Barnet College, where he taught media studies, and secretary of Barnet Trades Council.

Ken also worked closely with the Grunwick strike committee and played a big part in this very significant struggle.

It’s easy to list the positions that he held in the movement but Ken was special.

He could undertake all those petty routine bureaucratic tasks but relate to those around him in a completely non bureaucratic way. His ability to listen, and to argue if he thought you wrong, in such a way that you could never fail to have absolute trust in him.

Ken was completely and naturally unsectarian. Wherever he was active he built networks of people around him. His ability to motivate people was remarkable.

After his retirement, Ken threw himself into working with the Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC).

In particular he was a driving force behind the trade union work of the campaign. This was quite literally true when it came to one of his biggest projects, the 2012 Climate Caravan.

It was while doing this campaign that Ken’s skills were revealed. He helped organise dozens of meetings as two vans travelled around Britain on a public awareness campaign around One Million Climate Jobs.

Ken travelled on one of the legs of the caravan, organising, speaking and making sure the immense logistical task came together.

How he did that was a great achievement, almost a work of art.

Ken will be enormously missed from the Campaign Against Climate Change, where his work was hugely important

Ken was a key figure in helping to organise meetings to build a global network around climate jobs during recent protests in Paris, when global leaders held climate talks.

The work done there has helped spread the campaign to many different countries and trade unions.

In the last months Ken had been part of bringing together a conference on “climate refugees” for the trade union movement in February.

The impressive line-up is a testament to Ken’s organisational ability. He will be enormously missed from CACC, where his work was hugely important though he never took any credit for his achievements.

The other part of Ken’s life was his book on the early labour movement.

His encyclopedic knowledge of this history and the personalities always left the impression that he knew them, almost personally.

That touch he had with all those around him was present when he talked about his book—you felt it was not just an academic exercise but part of his living experience.

We can only hope that Ken’s book will be published soon, not just as a contribution to the ongoing debate about the roots of reformism but as a monument to his life as a revolutionary socialist, a fighter and a valued comrade, whom we will miss terribly.

Ken 'was a true Marxist'

Socialist Worker's obituary of Ken Montague rightly highlights Ken's invaluable contribution to the national Campaign Against Climate Change. But that wasn't all. On behalf of Brighton comrades, I'd like to put on record our gratitude and appreciation for the work that Ken did in his short time down here, both within the SWP branch and across a wide number of campaigns.

In particular, he was instrumental in broadening and deepening the activity of the People's Assembly group, making concrete links to trade unions and anti-racism. He was also central to attempts to launch Stand Up To Racism locally and, naturally, ensured climate change was always on the agenda.

He regularly attended SWP branch meetings, where he not only gave us the benefit of his great knowledge and experience but was always at pains to ensure there was a practical result.

Ken was a true Marxist in fusing theory and practice at every point and, leading by example, was unstinting in his efforts to make a difference in the world. We are still in shock at his loss, and have yet to discover just how much we will surely miss him, as a loyal comrade and friend.

Phil Mellows, Brighton

Article information

Tue 13 Dec 2016, 18:09 GMT
Issue No. 2534
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