Santiago, Tuesday,

September 11, 1973

At 11.58am, five hours after news of a military coup against the Chilean government led by Salvador Allende began, the Chilean air force’s Hawker Hunter fighters join the fighting. Streaking through the Santiago sky, they open fire on the presidential palace, La Moneda, where Allende and his colleagues are holding out.

The coup’s endgame has started. Troops and tanks are already in the streets around La Moneda. The tanks have been firing on the palace since 10 in the morning.

The bombardment continues for almost 20 minutes. The Hawker Hunters fire around 17 rockets into the palace. One is a direct hit. Fires jump up and lick at the building. Ceilings collapse.

Two hours later Allende, the first openly Marxist president elected democratically in South America, places an AK-47 assault rifle between his legs, the barrel pointed at his head, and pulls the trigger. (Other accounts suggest he was assassinated.)

With his death more than a century of democracy in Chile comes to an end. In its place a brutal repressive dictatorship takes over, led by General Augusto Pinochet. In the days and months and years that followed, thousands of people would be killed or go missing.

East Kilbride, Wednesday,

March 22, 1974

Engineer Bob Fulton arrives at the Rolls-Royce factory he has worked at for more than a decade. It is essentially a garage for aeroplane engines. They come in, get stripped down, checked, overhauled and repaired. Many of the factory’s clients are military.

Fulton works as an inspector in the unit build section of the factory – D block. He is in his late thirties, a churchgoer and a shop steward.

Picking up a card for his next job, he checks who the engine belongs to. When he sees that this is an engine from the Chilean air force he knows what that means. This engine is from a plane that was part of the coup.

HeraldScotland:

Stuart Barr                                            Photograph Jamie Simpson

Fulton tells his colleague Stuart Barr. Both men know what has been happening in Chile. They know their fellow trade unionists had been victims of Pinochet’s regime. Barr’s response is emphatic. “Let’s black the f*****s.”

He takes a felt tip marker and wrote the word “black” on the engine’s main components. As soon as the fitters see that word they refuse to work on the engine. And a factory in East Kilbride suddenly is part of the story of Chile.

There are eight Chilean engines in the factory, although the workers are only aware of four. They refuse to work on any of them, a refusal that will continue for four years until the engines mysteriously disappear overnight.

East Kilbride, Wednesday,

January 10, 2018

Bob Fulton walks up the hill from the sheltered accommodation where he now lives to the Royal British Legion club at the top of the street. He is 94, a little hard of hearing but still steady on his feet. Already in the building are his former colleagues Stuart Barr, John Keenan and Robert Somerville. Back in 1974 all of them were engineers at Rolls-Royce. All of them were shop stewards and all of them played a part in the story of the Chilean engines.

And now all four of them are at the heart of a new movie by the Chilean filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra. Nae Pasaran tells the story of the East Kilbride boycott, the impact it had in Chile and seeks to find answers to what happened to the engines after they disappeared from the Rolls-Royce factory in 1978. The movie will be the closing gala of the Glasgow Film Festival in March.

This morning the four men have gathered to tell the story as they remember it, to relive times past. This is their story. It’s the story of a small wrinkle in the history of Chile, a story of another time when there was a power in a union and a story of how an act of resistance might echo down the years.

It is in passing, too, you could argue, a story about the Scottish new towns. All four of these men are incomers. Fulton was born and brought up in Anderston in Glasgow and moved to East Kilbride when he got a job at the Rolls-Royce factory in 1963. “I got a transfer here and got a house within a fortnight. I thought it was a dream factory,” he says.

Barr, 73, is originally from Govan. He started at Rolls-Royce when he was 16. Keenan is originally from Glasgow as well, but moved to East Kilbride when his father got a job at the factory. Somerville, 80, was born in Newmains and joined Rolls-Royce in his late twenties. He lived in Motherwell then. He still does now.

By the early 1970s the factory employed about 4,500 people on the shop floor. The work they carried out was necessarily high-spec. “Engines would come in, they’d be stripped, go through the wash, crack tests, inspection, salvage, stores, build, unit build, test bed, dispatch. That was the process,” says Keenan. “You’re building aero engines. The standards have to be very high. You can’t look under the bonnet at 30,000ft.”

It was also – typically of the time – a heavily unionised factory, with nearly every manual union recognised. A de facto closed shop. The four men were all members of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU), which these days is part of the Unite union.

In 1974 unions had muscle. And when Fulton and Barr took action the union was willing to back its members. There were shop stewards’ meetings, work committee meetings and even at one point a factory meeting, all of which endorsed the decision to black the engines.

“I’ve just read an article saying 16 people were holding the company to ransom,” Barr says. “But it wasn’t 16 people. Everybody in the whole factory knew about it.”

Certainly, the more politically active members of the union knew what was happening in Chile. In the wake of the coup the AEEU had issued a condemnation of the Chilean junta. And that condemnation was echoed locally.

“When the coup happened our shop stewards committee [in the Rolls-Royce factory] moved a resolution that we condemned the coup in Chile,” Keenan remembers. “We had already done that, unaware of what was going to happen in the future.”

That future was the arrival of the engines from the British-built Hawker Hunters that had taken part in the attack on La Moneda. As soon as Fulton realised where the engines were from he decided to act inconjunction with Barr. “Bob was doing it on the principle that he was a Christian,” Barr says, “and I was doing it politically.”

Fulton had served during the war. He had landed with the Eighth Army in Italy. He knew what it was like to take on fascist regimes. He was more than willing to do it again. At one meeting he stood up and said: “I am a Christian and a shop steward and I refuse to work on a Chile engine.”

The question you might ask is, given that a lot of work at the factory was for military clients, what was different about these engines?

“They were shooting and killing trade unionists,” Fulton says simply.

“This was a democratically elected government turned over,” says Barr. “That was different. We didn’t know they were backed by the CIA. We now know that.”

“We knew what they were doing,” adds Keenan. “We knew that they were killing people. We knew that they were bombing people. We were aware of people going missing, being tortured, murdered.”

Allende had been elected president of Chile in 1970 and embarked on an extensive programme of nationalisation and radical social reform. But by January 1973 his government had to announce that it was introducing food rations to overcome shortages it claimed had been created by political opponents.

Hyperinflation and recession meant there were many who wanted the Allende government to fall. The brutality of what would follow, however, was horrifying.When he seized power, General Pinochet censored the press and banned unions. That was the least of it. In the days, months and years that followed, thousands of people were tortured and killed. Many thousands more went into exile.

For two months after the coup the national football stadium was turned into a prison camp for some 20,000 men and women. Many were beaten and tortured. Many women were raped. Who knows how many were killed? (The SFA’s announcement that Scotland would play a friendly at the stadium in 1977 was met with an outcry. The game went ahead anyway.)

In March 1974, when the East Kilbride workers took their action, the violence of the coup was still in full spate.

HeraldScotland:

John Keenan                                           Photograph Jamie Simpson

But the actions of the Scottish workers were inevitably controversial. This was a political act, after all. Were there people against the action? “The management were certainly against it,” laughs Keenan.

Somerville takes up the story. “What was agreed was to segregate the Chilean engines, so we could get on with other work. That took the pressure off the situation.”

But at the time Rolls-Royce itself was nationalised and management was pragmatic and wary of the political dimension. It possibly also helped that Labour came back to power in a minority government that February. Ted Heath, the then Tory leader, raised the boycott in Parliament.

Not that all the pressure to end the boycott was external. “There was pressure coming from the head of our union,” points out Somerville. But still the workers refused to work on the engines. Eventually they agreed to lash them together and move them out of the factory, where they sat from 1975 to 1978 rusting and untouched.

“We went to the shop stewards and said: ‘As far as we’re concerned they can lie out there forever,” Keenan says.

But that wasn’t quite what happened. On arriving at the factory one morning in 1978 they discovered the engines were gone.

Lorries had come in the night, loaded them up and driven them away with a police escort. A fake haulage firm using fake registration numbers were behind it, they claim.

Six weeks after the engines disappeared the Chilean air force issued a press release saying the engines were back and in service. Untrue as it turned out. “We knew they wouldn’t be flying,” says Keenan.

After the engines disappeared, life went on. All four men continued working at Rolls Royce into the 1990s and beyond. Somerville became involved in Scotland’s Chile Solidarity movement, helping Chilean exiles settle in Scotland. When Allende’s widow Hortensia Bussi de Allende came to Glasgow he was pressed into service as a bodyguard because he had a black belt in karate.

HeraldScotland:

Robert Somerville                                  Photograph Jamie Simpson

And then five years ago film-maker Felipe Bustos Sierra turned up to talk to them about the idea of making a short film. He has since expanded it to a full-length documentary which discovers what happened to the engines after they were taken from the factory.

All four have enjoyed the experience of making the film. What has it meant to them being involved in it? “We found out a lot of new information which makes it worthwhile,” says Keenan. “We’ve got a piece of art about our culture. It’s been a great experience.

“And also, your voice is heard,” adds Barr. “We didn’t get good press unless it was the Morning Star. And that was f****** boring.”

Did they make a difference? In the film Sierra Busias speaks to a general in the Chilean air force who admits that because of the East Kilbride actions the regime for a time had no planes that could fly. Not that anyone knew it.

There has been an official recognition of what the men in East Kilbride did back then. In 2015 the Rolls Royce boycott was recognised by Chile itself when Keenan, Fulton and Somerville were all awarded the Order of Bernardo O’Higgins medal in a ceremony in Glasgow City Chambers.

The world has changed since then of course. Pinochet is dead. Chile is a democracy again. The closed shop is a thing of the past. If the men of the Rolls Royce factory tried to take such action now it would be impossible under current employment law.

But the story is theirs and now thanks to the film others will get to hear it. “A lot of Chileans in Scotland will realise what took place to help them,” says Somerville approvingly.

And as for these four men they have their memories. And their friendships. As we prepare to leave Barr is considering the question of what he has gained from the film again.

“I look back on it with a kind of pride which I didn’t do before,” says Barr. “and I was reunited with Bob. Despite Bob being a Christian I was a friend of his.” He still is.

And Fulton. How does he reflect on it all? “I think I would have done the same thing.”

Felipe Bustos Sierra on the making of the film and his own Chilean story.

HeraldScotland:

“My father was a Chilean refugee in exile in Belgium and I grew up there. He was a student journalist [in Chile] but he never actually graduated because everyone graduates on September 18, which is National Independence Day, so he was a week from graduating [when the coup took place]. He had to go into hiding. He used to hide in cinemas, so he’s never been in a cinema since. He’s not coming to the premiere.

“The iconic image of the coup was the Hawker Hunters bombing. At Belgian solidarity events people were talking about how the Hawker Hunters had somehow made it to Scotland and were stuck because of the workers’ actions. I remember this lady talking about the workers erecting barricades around the planes and fighting with the police and it was lovely when I was eight but as I got older I realised this is not true. This was a bit of balm for the heart, but nothing that actually happened.

“When I started as a film maker I was really interested in Victor Jara who was a theatre director who became a folk singer because he thought his music was more accessible than his plays. He was killed in the coup and I grew up with his music.

“For many years I was working on this Victor Jara documentary. Eventually it didn’t happen. I needed to keep busy and when I found these guys I thought this story is an anecdote which probably didn’t happen, let’s hear it straight from them. There was an urgency to it. All these people are going to pass away in the next 10, 20 years. I just want to know what kind of people they were.

“It’s taken five years to make. I’ve become a better film-maker. I feel a lot more connected with Scotland. Scotland’s my home. We’ll see what Brexit has to say about that.”

The world premiere of Nae Pasaran is the closing gala of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. Tickets will go on sale at noon on Monday at glasgowfilm.org