Ardeer Girls

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd September 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

It is a pleasure to congratulate Ruth Maguire on securing the debate and to congratulate Jack Dickson, who I understand is a good comrade, and thank him for the research that has been involved in what is a chronicling of working-class history and for bringing the story to the Parliament. I thank him for documenting the exploitative working conditions that existed in the plant and, unfortunately, in many workplaces throughout Ayrshire and Scotland where there was brutal and grinding poverty. The health and safety concerns that existed then are, thankfully, more serious than those that exist today but, as members have said, health and safety remains a significant problem in many workplaces.

As Jamie Greene said, it was very much a case of guilty until proved innocent. I imagine that the work that has been done through the play has been welcomed by families and local communities, and I am pleased that some family members have been able to come to the Parliament today. It is important that we remember the tragic story of the deaths of these girls and women.

We must understand the important role that the Ardeer factory had in the North Ayrshire community. As has been said, it was reputed to be the largest explosives factory in the world and, at its height, 13,000 people were employed there. Many people in North Ayrshire either are former employees or know people who were. It is very much something that is still spoken about.

There has been an impact on the community, not just in the three towns but all over North Ayrshire, where works buses travelled in, bringing workers to the site. There are now only a few hundred workers at the Chemring site, which still produces ammunition, and there is no doubt that the loss of the workplace is still being felt in the three towns and beyond. Indeed, the closure of other large employers such as the Glengarnock steel plant, and the closure of the mines in the 1980s are still being felt throughout Ayrshire.

Working-class communities have a mixed story to tell. Massive employers that brought much wealth—not necessarily to the individual workers, but to Scotland as a whole—have gone, and that has created massive challenges. It is important that we remember and understand the brutal conditions in which people worked. The conditions at Ardeer and in many places of employment in the 1880s were appalling. It was only through the struggle of working-class communities and the creation of the trade union movement that that began to change.

The story is one of individuals involved in struggle and having to face exploitation. The story of the explosion, which killed 10 women, one of whom was only 14, would not have been heard if it was not for those who did the research, documented the evidence, listened to the oral stories that still exist, and put together the piece of work that we are discussing.

I congratulate all involved in the production. Those stories need to be heard. We need to learn the lessons of the past, recognise what we have been through, and understand what that means for us today in respect of the values of our society and what kind of society we want to live in. We must recognise the changes that have been made, which mean, I hope, that disasters on such a scale will not happen again, and we must recognise that the only way in which we will ensure that that happens is through understanding our history and fighting to ensure that we listen to the lessons and value the lives of all in society. For that reason, I am pleased to have contributed to the debate and to congratulate all those who have brought the issue before us.