Sometimes in life we come across fascinating stories; tales of great bravery, accounts of outstanding courage and selfless action in the face of diversity. Serious diversity, like that faced by the people of Chile, 45 years ago this month when their democratically elected Government was overthrown in a brutal military coup and the dictator, Augusto Pinochet, assumed power. Thousands of people were killed, and tens of thousands more were tortured or jailed for political reasons.
East Kilbride at that time was home to the Rolls-Royce factory that repaired and maintained the Avon engines that powered the Hawker Hunter jet, one of the UK’s most exported military aircrafts. That is where Chile and East Kilbride created a link, a story that has now been immortalised in the wonderful film ‘Nae Pasaran!”.
In 1974, a few months after Chile’s coup, engine inspector Bob Fulton arrived at work at the EK factory. The note of his next repair job said that the engines were from the Chilean Air Force. Bob realised that the engines would be from the planes involved in Pinochet’s attack on democracy—and, no doubt, in the on-going abuses of the Chilean people. He made a decision: he was not working on those engines.
Bob’s colleagues backed him. The workers in the Rolls-Royce factory in East Kilbride boycotted the Chilean Air Force engines. They kept the boycott going for four years, and the engines were left to rust. However, one night, the engines mysteriously disappeared. The workers were told their actions had been meaningless.
Years passed. Bob Fulton and others moved on and retired. Some of the workers are no longer with us. Meanwhile, the son of a Chilean exile was growing up hearing rumours about the Rolls-Royce workers’ act of solidarity. Felipe Bustos Sierra grew up to be a film-maker, was fascinated by the story and determined to find out whether it was myth or reality. That’s why he turned up to speak to Bob Fulton some 40 years after the Rolls-Royce workers’ action. That was the beginning of the making of the film.
The stars of “Nae Pasaran!” are four men who worked at Rolls-Royce in EK in 1974 and who, with others, potentially put their jobs on the line to stand up for their principles—Bob Fulton, Robert Somerville, John Keenan and Stuart Barrie.
Bob, Robert, John, Stuart and their fellow workers showed courage, compassion and commitment. They did what they knew to be right. What they did not know was the effect that it had, or that Felipe Bustos Sierra would turn up decades down the line to let them know about that effect. What they did not know was that, during the making of a film about the Rolls-Royce engines, they would meet Chileans who were persecuted during the Pinochet regime—fellow workers, incarcerated, tortured and afraid of execution—who told them that they took some comfort from the fact that they knew that, way over in a place called East Kilbride in Scotland, there was a bunch of workers who refused to repair Pinochet’s jet engines.
What a story! A story I was delighted to tell in our Parliament last week, especially having East Kilbride heroes Bob Fulton and Sturt Barrie sitting in the Public Gallery listening to the debate.
There is so much more to be said about “Nae Pasaran!”—the excellent representation of the situation at the time, the filmed interviews and the politics, not just of Chile but of the United Kingdom and other western Governments—space limits me. You must see the film!
The Rolls Royce workers in East Kilbride took a stand against fascism in defence of the democratic rights of the Chilean people. This is a remarkable piece of Scotland’s industrial history.
Like I say, sometimes in life we come across fascinating stories. East Kilbride is extremely proud of its heroes who said “Nae Pasaran!