A jet engine subject to a workers’ boycott in Scotland during the 1970s because it was to be used by murderous Chilean dictator General Pinochet’s airforce was unveiled as a monument to the boycotters remarkable act of solidarity today (October 25).
The Avon Mark 11 engine was unveiled at South Lanarkshire College and was the first of eight engines to be boycotted unanimously by the workforce at the Rolls Royce East Kilbride factory.
In 1974, union reps John Keenan, Stuart Barrie, Bob Fulton and Robert Somerville refused to work on engines sent for repair to the factory by the Chilean Airforce.
The four shop stewards wouldn’t know the consequences of their decision to organise a workforce boycott of the engines until years later, when the documentary Nae Pasaran! – which won best feature at BAFTA Scotland 2018 – was made about their remarkable story.
The group decided to veto the four engines when they arrived in the factory after having seen on the news the previous year’s air raid on Modena, the seat of Chile’s legitimately elected leftist government.
The bombing was orchestrated by the Chilean army under the command of tyrant General Augusto Pinochet, who would soon become the country’s dictator.
The aircrafts that launched the rockets were Hawker Hunters, exported to Chile from the UK.
At that time there was only one place where Hawker Hunter engines could be serviced: the East Kilbride Rolls Royce factory.
Over the next four years the engines rusted in wooden crates in the factory grounds – the longest single act of solidarity for Chile – until they were mysteriously taken away one night in 1978.
The workers were not informed of where they had gone and were told their actions had achieved nothing.
The Scottish “blacking” of the engines, however, became a treasured symbol of international solidarity for thousands of Chileans, and in 2015 Fulton, Keenan and Somerville were awarded Chile’s highest honour for foreigners in recognition for their efforts.
By the time the brutal Pinochet regime toppled in 1990, thousands of Chileans had been tortured and imprisoned and more than 3,000 people had been murdered. The victims became known as the “disappeared”.
Unite Scotland regional co-ordinating officer Jackson Cullinane said, “The unveiling of the engine today, as a permanent tribute and testimony to the courage and commitment to international solidarity of the workers at Rolls Royce, will serve to stimulate debate and discussion and, in particular, educate future generations of the need for strong trade union organisation and the progressive role that trade unions play in defending and advancing democracy locally, nationally and internationally.”