Mike Phipps reviews an important new documentary
Nae pasaran! is about international workers’ solidarity – often a slogan, but nowadays seldom a reality. But in the 1970s, when trade unions were a lot stronger, a group of Scottish factory workers, discovering the Rolls Royce aero engines they were repairing were bound for the military dictatorship in Chile, refused to work on them. The local union backed them and the engines sat rusting.
The engines were for Hawker Hunter fighter jets. It was these planes that bombed Chile’s presidential palace in September 1973. Pinochet’s coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende led to a bloodbath against the workers movement in Chile with thousands killed and disappeared. Many activists were tortured and jailed yet, illegally listening to Radio Moscow in their cells, were intrigued to hear about the act of solidarity by Rolls Royce workers in East Kilbride. It gave them hope at a hopeless time.
Felipe Bustos Sierra’s documentary traces the impact within Chile of the Scottish workers’ decision to boycott the weapons. The key figures involved in the decision are still alive and are astonished and moved by the unforeseen results of their principled stand. At the end of the film, they are awarded Chile’s highest honour by the Socialist government of Michelle Bachelet.
This is a very positive film. It recalls a time not only when trade unions could be a force for global rights, but when there was a worldwide solidarity movement with the people of Chile – with protests against the repression, calls for help with refugees and, as here, real acts of solidarity across continents. Yet the protagonists, as so often, are straightforward, modest people, reinforcing the enduring idea that a revolution is “a mosaic of small acts”.