Whilst we all enjoyed learning about Tom Chapman, there was general agreement that the story was not very well told, and that we really wanted to know a lot more about the man, and the work that he had undertaken. However, despite this, there was a lot to appreciate and to learn from his story. His childhood, which was marked by poverty and deprivation, was a reminder of what life was like — and may still be like — for many people. But from this background grew his faith — which may have been naïve in many ways, but had an incredible strength. This faith came through in the way that he stood up to those who attempted to undermine him, but without seeking revenge and even being prepared to stand up for his opponents when they had genuine grievances.
The book stimulated discussion about the place of the Christian in the workplace. One of the marks of Tom Chapman's witness was his willingness to listen to the concerns of all sides to a dispute, and then to reflect these in his conversations with management. It was noted that this was what people involved in personnel/human resource management should also be doing.
When he moved on from trade union work, Tom took up the newly-formed post of Liaison Officer for the Church of England's Board of Social Responsibility. Here, he could use his experience to good effect, arranging opportunities for people on all sides of industry to meet together, and also having an input into industrial disputes. His readiness to go where he could meet with and listen to the concerns of ordinary working people, took him into pubs and clubs, which were not his natural haunt. This work led him eventually into setting up the European Christian Industrial Movement.
The appendices provided more detail about some of the specific activities that Tom Chapman was involved in, and gave a bit more substance to his story. But there were many questions unanswered. However, it was good to read something about the real world of work, and the challenges faced within it in an earlier decade.
Questions were raised about why there was a singling out of the Communist threat, when there were many other forces which can crush the human spirit. Recent years have shown the down-side of unbridled capitalism, but these were the same forces which many Communists, and others labelled as Communists, were challenging in these earlier years. None of this diminishes the witness and faith of Tom Chapman, but the question of how we establish just and compassionate relationships in the world of work remains with us.
Ken Harris — January 2014