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The Scottish Workers Who Stopped Pinochet's Engines of War

By Petr Knava | Pajiba Storytellers | November 30, 2017 |

By Petr Knava | Pajiba Storytellers | November 30, 2017 |

The world is filled with remarkable stories, its surface traced with a vast and multilayered filigree of tales. Tales of all shapes and sizes. Stories both joyous and sorrowful. Huge stories that influence the currents of history, sweeping up colossal swathes of humanity in their wake. Stories that are written and spoken of forever. And then there are smaller stories—events which may well have had a tremendous impact but which nevertheless risk evanescing into obscurity with the relentless march of time, either by being overshadowed by their larger counterparts, or by simply never really being told loudly. There are stories out there which deserve to be bellowed from the rooftops and marked forever on record but which are on the cusp of being forgotten forever.

Sometimes, though, luckily, there are people who refuse to let history forget.

The story of the Scottish factory workers who stopped General Augusto Pinochet’s engines, and the documentary makers determined to bring their story to the world, is one of those times.

September 11, 1973 was a dark for Chile. A day forever seared painfully into the history of Latin America, and a bloodstained mark against the names of the United States and Britain. The heartbreaking tale of Salvador Allende, democratically elected President of Chile and moderate social democrat, whose regime was overthrown and whose life was mercilessly taken by a right-wing, CIA-sponsored coup, and who was succeeded by barbaric tyranny, need not be elucidated in detail here again. Sometimes the horror is too much to bear repeating. But there is a flipside to the horror too, because—as is so often the case in the history of our species—out of a story that featured so much brutality, some stirrings of humanity were felt.

And yet as bittersweet fate would have it these particular stirrings would remain largely unknown and unremarked for decades to come, almost being forgotten entirely.

In their assault on the Presidential palace on September 11th, General Pinochet’s forces used exported, British-made Hawker Hunter military aircraft. Remarkable footage of these planes firing rockets into La Moneda palace was captured by a documentary crew and, in a world yet to be connected and shrunk by the internet, was broadcast around the globe, shocking and appalling many. Some who saw the footage decided to do more than to just be shocked and appalled. They resolved to respond, in any way they could.

Because you see, the Hawker Hunter were all fitted with a particular engine. By the tail end of the 1970’s these engines, made by Rolls-Royce, were all repaired at only one factory—Rolls-Royce East Kilbride in Scotland. The workers at Kilbride, struck by the imagery being beamed to Scotland all the way from South America, recognised the planes involved and they knew there and then that fate had dealt them a singular hand. Their factory was the only place these machines of war could be serviced. Their hands were the only hands that could send them back in working order to Chile to serve Pinochet’s regime. These workers, despite being almost as far removed physically from the horror unfolding halfway across the world as was possible, felt instantly connected to it, and they knew they had no choice. They refused to service the machines of death. They did not let them pass through their factories.

For four long years the workers kept up the boycott. The engines sat useless, piling up, rusting. Then, one night, they disappeared. The workers, having displayed such fortitude of spirit and proving themselves shining examples of solidarity, were told that their efforts had been useless.

And thus was the ‘truth’ written in time.

That is until Nae Pasaran, a documentary dedicated to chronicling exactly what happened with the Hawker engines, and to measuring what impact the workers of East Kilbride had. The meticulous research done by the filmmakers would ensure that the lie told to the Scotsmen would not become the truth woven into history. As per the Nae Pasaran Kickstarter:

In 2015, following revelations of our research, the Chilean ambassador bestowed the highest honour given to foreigners by the Government of Chile upon the Scottish workers. In an unlikely twist of fate, the film chronicles how the pensioners from East Kilbride became Commanders of the Republic of Chile.

As is obvious from the above, and as I am sad to report, this is a story that is not quite finished yet. Because this quite special documentary is not itself yet finished. It is trying to tell a small story that stands in the shadow of a very large one, but it is one that is aching to be told. It is a story that resonates with some very fundamental, necessary, truths: That the actions of a person or people acting out of solidarity, no matter how small or how far away they may seem, are never meaningless. That the power of solidarity, even in the face of overwhelming odds, can never be denied, because it is one of the strongest feats humanity is capable of, and stories that tell of it always deserve to be told.

Petr Knava lives in London and plays music

Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

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