Following the Austin-Nuffield merger the shop stewards of the amalgamating companies formed a combine committee: the BMC Joint Shop Stewards Committee. In February 1956 Etheridge became Chairman of this Committee. Later in that year the Committee played a major role in the anti-redundancies strike, which resulted in the first ever redundancy payments agreement and subsequently influenced the introduction of statutory notice and contract provisions.
In 1968 when the British Leyland Motor Corporation was formed a corresponding shop stewards’ combine committee was created. This was the co-federal BLMC Combine Trades Union Committee (often called the BLTUC) of which Etheridge became co-chairman.
In 1946 Etheridge was elected to the AEU’s Birmingham District Committee. He remained a committee member until 1965 when the District was divided. He was then elected President of the new Birmingham West District and he retained this position until 1975. In 1958 and on five subsequent occasions he was elected to the AEU National Committee, its prime annual policy conference. In 1963 and again from 1966 to 1974 he was elected an AEU delegate to the annual Trades Union Congress.
Dick Etheridge had joined the Communist Party before beginning work at Longbridge and during the war years he was especially active in its Austin Motors branch, remaining a member throughout. After the war he was active in its motor industry group and had a role in formulating party policy in respect of the motor industry. In 1950 he contested the Birmingham, Northfield constituency in the general election. He served on both the Birmingham City and Midlands Regional Committees of the Party and from 1961 until 1973 was a member of its National Executive.
Etheridge, a blunt man with a heavy local accent, was known for his command of mass meetings at the Longbridge factory, in speeches to which, he often employed ironic humour redolent of the industrial heartlands of the West Midlands, the punch lines of which contained apposite lessons or directions for union members. He died in 1985 when the mass of paperwork he had collated over the years was donated to a public archive.
Until 1953 the records which Etheridge kept as convener were relatively informal. Most important of these are his daily working notes. These take the form of scrap paper, blank on one side (which he wrote on) and folded to fit his pockets. Much of his correspondence for the years 1945 to 1953 was interfiled with these notes. In 1953 he became more formal in his record-keeping. In particular he began to file incoming correspondence and other papers with the agenda for the Joint Shop Stewards or Works Committee meeting at which they would be discussed.
Along with the agenda and related papers Etheridge placed what he called the “convener’s report”. This was not a continuous prose report but a skeletal outline of matters to be raised, especially disputes internal to the Longbridge Works. Many of the items listed in the convener’s reports were directly related to notes received from shop stewards and these were filed with it. A similar series of agendas, convener’s reports and related papers exist in respect of the AEU shop stewards’ organisation at Longbridge. Etheridge devised pro forma cards and record sheets for use by shop stewards in documenting internal disputes. Some of these were filed by Etheridge in separate series but many were incorporated into other files.
Sources: Warwick Modern Records centre; J Salmon, Organised labour in a market economy, University of Warwick PhD thesis (1983), Obituaries in Morning Star, 20 Mar 1985, and Times, 21 Mar 1985. R J Wyatt, Austin, 1906-52 (1981)