Re­mem­ber when the unions could take on a dic­ta­tor? Th­ese three do...

Nae Pasaran tells the tale of a time when a group of Glaswe­gians de­fied Pinochet

The Observer - - Comment & Analysis - Kevin McKenna

Ononly one oc­ca­sion did I feel moved to ap­ply a cen­sor’s red pen through a line of copy by an­other writer for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. It hap­pened around 20 years ago when I held an ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion at a na­tional news­pa­per. Our res­i­dent rightwing com­men­ta­tor, prob­a­bly the bright­est of them all, had cho­sen to open his col­umn with this punchy, three-word salu­ta­tion: “Viva Gen­eral Pinochet”.

The fol­low­ing is a rough ap­prox­i­ma­tion of the short and in­deco­rous con­ver­sa­tion that un­folded be­tween us.

“Viva Gen­eral Pinochet? Viva Gen­eral fuckin’ Pinochet? I’ll give you Gen­eral fuckin’ Pinochet some­where painful.” (It should be said here that I en­joyed an other­wise con­vivial work­ing re­la­tion­ship with this gent, one that in­cluded drink­ing ses­sions.)

“He brought sta­bil­ity to Chile and halted the com­mu­nist tide that would have plunged the coun­try into chaos.”

“He dropped po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents out of he­li­copters from great heights into rivers.”

“That’s where some of the blighters de­served to be.”

“That’s where you’ll soon be. That line’s com­ing out.”

This wasn’t an act of ret­ro­spec­tive de­fi­ance by me in sol­i­dar­ity with the tens of thou­sands of Chileans who were tor­tured, mur­dered and op­pressed by Au­gusto Pinochet’s evil mil­i­tary regime be­tween 1973 and 1990. The line “Viva Gen­eral Pinochet” sim­ply un­der­mined an other­wise well-ar­gued col­umn analysing why Mar­garet Thatcher felt she had a duty to de­fend the dic­ta­tor when he was ar­rested on Bri­tish soil in 1998. It was a car­toon slo­gan, I felt, that de­tracted from some se­ri­ous points about Thatcher be­ing loyal to an old ally who lent her the as­sis­tance of the Chilean air force dur­ing the Falk­lands war. He had also al­lowed dis­as­sem­bled air­craft parts to be shipped in for de­ploy­ment by the Bri­tish.

I won­dered too if Pinochet might have been pos­sessed of a keen sense of irony. Eight years be­fore the Falk­lands war, he had en­coun­tered some tur­bu­lence in his re­la­tion­ship with the UK over mil­i­tary air­craft parts. This fol­lowed the mil­i­tary coup he had di­rected in Chile, which saw the over­throw of the demo­crat­i­cally elected so­cial­ist govern­ment of Pres­i­dent Sal­vador Al­lende and a bru­tal crack­down on trade union­ists, left­wing ac­tivists and re­cal­ci­trant mem­bers of the Chilean army.

The story of Pinochet’s trou­ble with Bri­tish-made air­craft parts is beau­ti­fully re­counted and brought up to date in the doc­u­men­tary film

Nae Pasaran. The film pays tribute to the Scot­tish trade union­ists work­ing at the Rolls-Royce plant in East Kil­bride in 1974 who re­fused to carry out re­pairs to Chilean air force jet en­gines, even­tu­ally ren­der­ing them ob­so­lete. They knew they were risk­ing their liveli­hoods and their fam­i­lies’ fu­tures, but they had also seen footage of jets us­ing th­ese en­gines bomb­ing San­ti­ago and of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers be­ing herded into foot­ball sta­di­ums, where they would be tor­tured and many mur­dered.

Felipe Bus­tos Sierra, a Bel­gian/ Chilean film-maker based in Scot­land, was in­spired to make Nae

Pasaran by a mem­ory passed on by his fa­ther. Now the men who or­gan­ised this Scot­tish in­dus­trial re­volt get to dis­cover the im­pact it had on the lives of some of those suf­fer­ing un­der one of the most re­pres­sive regimes of the 20th cen­tury. The ac­tions of those East Kil­bride work­ers oc­curred only a gen­er­a­tion ago and within the mem­ory of the ma­jor­ity of Scot­tish cit­i­zens, yet cu­ri­ously their act of re­sis­tance and com­pas­sion has been largely for­got­ten.

Cur­rently screen­ing in short runs in small arts theatres across the UK, Nae Pasaran will be missed by the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the cin­ema-go­ing pub­lic. The pres­ence of the BBC in the cred­its, how­ever, pro­vides hope that it will soon be com­ing to our tele­vi­sion screens. When it does, I hope the BBC shows it with some promi­nence, be­cause this as­ton­ish­ing tale is about much more than a colour­ful mo­ment in his­tory. I saw it at the Glas­gow Film The­atre last week, where it was greeted by spon­ta­neous ap­plause at the end.

More than once, the trade union­ists and shop stew­ards, now long re­tired, speak mourn­fully about the pass­ing of a time when a well-or­gan­ised trade union could in­ter­vene suc­cess­fully in such mat­ters. “It wouldn’t hap­pen now,” they say. Decades of Tory an­ti­trade union leg­is­la­tion, which was per­mit­ted to stand by Tony Blair, have seen to that.

The Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute states that the UK was the sixth-big­gest arms dealer in the world in the pe­riod 2013-17 and the sec­ond­largest ex­porter of arms to Saudi Ara­bia, an evil regime that is just as re­pres­sive and bru­tal as Pinochet’s. Yet Theresa May is de­fy­ing a call from the Euro­pean par­lia­ment last month for an EU-wide em­bargo on arms sales to Saudi Ara­bia fol­low­ing the mur­der of the jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi at the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul. Ger­many has since halted all arms sales to Saudi; Tory MEPs all ab­stained in the Brus­sels vote.

Mrs May will no doubt use Brexit as a means of en­sur­ing that her govern­ment never has to con­form to any fu­ture Euro­pean queasi­ness about feed­ing mur­der­ous regimes, just as she will use it to fur­ther en­sure that Bri­tain’s em­ploy­ees will rarely be sub­ject to pesky EU workplace pro­tec­tions her party hates so much.

Bri­tain has never needed men such as Robert Somerville, John Keenan, Stu­art Bar­rie and Bob Ful­ton, the trade union­ists who in­spired Nae Pasaran, more than now.

‘It wouldn’t hap­pen now,’ they say. Decades of anti-trade union leg­is­la­tion have seen to that

Pho­to­graph by Murdo MacLeod for the Ob­server

For­mer Rolls-Royce work­ers Robert Somerville, Bob Ful­ton and Stu­art Bar­rie helped to in­spire the film Nae Pasaran.

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