The families and friends of the famous or the infamous; celebrities both rich and poor; or lesser mortals just thrust into the public eye are never allowed to escape from the shadow of their celebrated precursor or contemporary.
This is the story of one such family who lived in the shadow of a political activist who earned notoriety in the eyes of some; respect from others and extreme approbation from many of his contemporaries drawn from every walk of life. By its telling the story reveals how these complex interactions, both good and bad contributed in one way or another to the experience of the extended family and quite often to that of their close friends.
It is written from the perspective of a son growing up in that shadow and sets out to show how it influenced his own personal development and how he sought to follow in the footsteps of his guide and mentor. And yet the continuing story illustrates how the fates conspired to deflect him towards another path. The story runs thereafter on parallel tracks and in different worlds but yet on paths that continue to impinge upon one another in unexpected ways. Through these same tides of fate, the son ultimately finds himself engaged in a set of tasks that mirror those of his mentor and he finds the need to rediscover the lessons learnt at his father’s sleeve. And in so doing he yet again embarks on a new journey in a parallel universe where he fights on older principles in order to protect the jobs and careers of his academic colleagues; in so doing he emulates his mentor’s deeds.
Upon completion of these tasks the son is once more carried like a piece of flotsam on the swell of time and tide to engage new perspectives and to test both old and new ideas that measure his metal as a manager. Fully equipped with tools crafted in a previous existence he wields them to advantage and thus secures success in his new endeavours, but not before some of his new colleagues label him ‘A Class Traitor’.
The story also examines the role played by a wife and mother who offers unstinting support to her husband as he fulfils his objectives but not without a dedicated self-sacrifice on her part, yet at the same time she seeks to guide the son in a different direction. There are other people affected including a brother and a sister whose own experience will emerge through its telling, as will the stories of friends and contemporaries who inadvertently get caught under that same shadow. It is a narrative that encompasses most of the 20th century and bears witness to the rapid change that engulfed the ultimate decades of this momentous period; it also witnesses the application of one man’s intelligence and imagination as he inadvertently makes a substantial and largely un-attributed contribution to these changes. Namely, Dick Etheridge, a Shop Steward extraordinaire and yet a quite ordinary man with no great pretension to fame or prestige.
This is not the book originally planned in collaboration with a business historian colleague John Quirk (10), in which we intended to approach Dick Etheridge’s contribution to industrial relations in a more academic way, and so make it a very different contribution to knowledge. One that might have been less compelling than the human interest story told in the following pages.
This original intent was subsequently modified after a Christmas reading of Carl Chin’s excellent and anecdotal account of the dramatic events at the Longbridge car plant in 2000 (46) and so I choose now to write about a man and his influence rather than present yet another academic treatise about trade unionism or the company’s place in history that has been covered so many times before by a wide range of social and technical authors.
The chapter headings for this new book were set out on Boxing Day, 26Th December 2001, just one day previous to the anniversary of my father’s birth 92 years before and just one day after the anniversary of his expected birth. He was a complex man whose life was full of irony but had he been born on that most sacred of Christian festivals then the final irony must surely have been his early adoption of an Atheist creed.