Stan Orme and the road to ‘Industrial Democracy’
British attempts at the politicisation of working-class Protestants in Northern Ireland, 1973–75
in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and the struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland
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As Minister of State in Northern Ireland 1974-1976, Stanley Orme MP (1923-2005) worked at the heart of British government policies that attempted to ameliorate and politicise the membership of those loyalist groups that had successfully brought down the power sharing executive in 1974. Orme followed and extended a government policy of often secret engagement of those outside the mainstream of Northern Ireland politics; a policy that successfully brought about the Provisional IRA’s 1975 ceasefire, but which failed to bring the UVF into electoral politics with the dismal performance of the Volunteer Political Party in the 1974 general elections. Orme’s approach, outlined in the 1975 pamphlet ‘Industrial Democracy’ encouraged workers’ participation in the newly nationalised Harland and Wolff shipyard and was a direct attempt to politicise the Protestant working classes of Belfast. Orme attempted to redirect their support away from both existing militant and right-wing groups that at this time included the UDA, UVF and Ulster Vanguard. Orme’s view was that skilled industrial workers belonged within the fold of progressive social democracy and that the extension of government-backed syndicalist activity in the ship yard would empower the workers and help shift Northern Ireland as a whole from sectarian models of political activity to a class based system similar to the rest of the UK. For Orme, ‘Industrial Democracy’ was the ‘Last Chance for Northern Ireland’ and a potential solution to the province’s ills, ‘If the working-class people of Northern Ireland can be convinced that, whatever their religious denominations, they have economic interests in common, they will be able to approach the constitutional problem… with open minds.’ (‘Last Chance for Northern Ireland?’, [undated] c. 1975 LSE Orme 1/3). Using a combination of Orme’s official and private papers, this chapter seeks to explore and critique Orme’s motivation, his policy, and its effect.

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