The value of human solidarity: an appreciation of “Nae Pasaran” by Martin Kemp

The value of human solidarity: an appreciation of “Nae Pasaran”

“It was a moral stand that was taken… I couldn’t support or do anything that would help that type of government.” 

“Dictatorship was a red rag to a bull with me”

Forty-five years ago progressive people around the world were focusing on events in Chile. The Chile Solidarity Campaign had been formed in September 1973, the same month as a military junta overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in a coup planned and supported by the CIA and US-based multinationals. There were huge marches, benefit concerts, lectures and films, and a boycott. There was widespread horror at the reign of terror the fascists unleashed against trade unionists and workers, socialists and liberals, students and peasants, as it set out to crush forever any threat to the sanctity of private property and the freedom to exploit.

The film Nae Pasaran (2018) tells the story of an act of solidarity undertaken by a group of Scottish engineers at the Rolls Royce factory in East Kilbride (1). Their action began when engineer Bob Fulton realised that a set of jet engines that had arrived to be serviced belonged to the Chilean Air Force, and he called on his fellow workers to ‘black’ them – to refuse to touch them. His initiative soon received trade union backing and the unanimous support of his comrades. The engines were put out in the factory yard, to rot.

A few years ago Felipe Bustos Sierra, the son of Chilean refugees who, as a child, had heard about the workers’ initiative at political meetings he’d attended with his parents, returned to East Kilbride to find out what had actually happened, and to meet those who had been involved. He also went back to Chile to hear from those on both the fascist right and the democratic left about what they knew of this affair. Nae Pasaran is the result.

It’s a wonderful film about moral beliefs and democratic principle finding expression in collective action, at a time when we still had trade unions with muscle, and when at least some Labour politicians were happy to publicly support the boycotting of a fascist regime abroad.

The workers knew nothing of the consequences of their action. By bringing together the testimony of Scottish and Chilean comrades, and evidence from British and Chilean sources, the film demonstrates that the workers’ stubborn refusal to treat Chile as an ordinary country had made a significant impact in multiple ways.

It would spoil the impact of watching the film to describe this in detail. What I want to emphasise is that it strengthened the resolve of those Chileans – prisoners and torture victims among them – who came to learn of the boycott action. Sergio Requena-Rueda was a student leader and trade union activist who was arrested and tortured at the time, who speaks (in the words of another reviewer) “of the dark depths that the unimaginably inhumane treatment took him to, and how he was lifted up by word of this brave, selfless act of solidarity happening half the world away” (2). Sergio and his comrades heard about it from a clandestine radio programme broadcasting news of the terror in Chile and of the burgeoning solidarity movement overseas, carried by Radio Moscow. Not, we might note, by the World Service of the BBC. For those subject to the horrors of Pinochet’s Chile, it was of immense value to know that the world was not quiescent, that they had not been forgotten, that they were not alone.

Eliana Pinto, a member of the UKPMHN Steering Group, arrived in the UK in 1977 as a political refugee from Chile. She had lived for four years underground through this regime of terror, blacklisted, coping with the arrests and deaths of friends and comrades, living in fear for the safety of her husband and herself. She was one of those whose morale was sustained by the knowledge that the example and fate of the Popular Unity Government had inspired people across the planet to protest: that it was not the Chilean people who were forgotten but the Junta and its cronies who had made themselves pariahs. When asked, Eliana will always cite this as the reason for her activism in the struggle for equal rights and freedom in Palestine/Israel.

Eliana’s memory of the spiritual as well as practical importance of human solidarity is confirmed each time we visit Palestine. I have heard exactly the same appreciation conveyed by Palestinians as described by the Chilean activists in the film, describing what it meant to them to see the huge demonstrations in cities all over the world expressing collective rage at the appalling violence inflicted on the people of Gaza. Each successful BDS action – when a company announces that it is to divest from its Israeli operations, or withdraw from a contract, when a singer or actor announces that she or he cannot in conscience perform in Israel until it is a free country – chimes in harmony with each domestic act of sumud, the refusal to lay down and die, despite the ferocious pressure under which Palestinian live.

Chile has one of the largest diaspora Palestinian communities in the world. A Chilean of Palestinian heritage, Eileen Karmy, has elaborated on the parallels between Chile then and Palestine today (3). Some Chilean student societies and universities have severed ties with Israel, and the Chilean Congress has voted to ban products from the illegal colonies in the West Bank (4,5,6). In Britain too the movement is growing, with the Quakers being the first national church, and Leeds University the first college, to announce their decisions to divest from Israel.

Emma Thompson has added a video encouraging people to see the film, saying: “I think if more people knew about amazing acts of solidarity like this one, it would give them the courage they need to fight all the new forms of fascism we see bubbling up in our unhappy world today.” (7).

  7. 7.


Martin Kemp  UKPMHN