‘Many small people, in small places, doing small things, can change the world’, said the late Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano. In his tremendously powerful and moving film Nae Pasaran (Chile, 2018), Felipe Bustos Sierra shows how just a handful of Scottish workers and trade unionists, in an East Kilbride Rolls Royce factory, did small things that changed political events in a long and narrow South American country on the other side of the world.
On 11 September 1973, Chile’s ‘democratic road to socialism’ came to a violent end with the death of the constitutionally-elected president, Salvador Allende, in a US-backed coup that installed the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Immediately, Allende supporters, trade unionists, the working-classes and shanty-town poor were redefined as ‘subversives’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘enemies’ to be eradicated. Thousands were rounded up for detention, to be held without trial, tortured and killed in improvised concentration camps. In a country of 10 million inhabitants (in 1973), academic Elizabeth Lira writes, it is estimated that 2,000 were killed, 1,200 ‘disappeared’ (their bodies likely thrown from planes into the sea), 200,000 forced into exile, and 50,000 tortured. Actual figures are probably far higher.
In 1974, Avon engines from British-built Hawker Hunter jets, belonging to the Chilean air force, arrived in Scotland’s East Kilbride Rolls Royce factory for repair and maintenance. In protest against the atrocities and human rights violations of the Pinochet dictatorship, engineers risked their jobs and livelihoods by refusing to work on the engines. Despite their bosses’ mounting pressure on them to do the job, workers ‘blacked’ the engines and left them outside to rust. They continued their boycott until the engines disappeared one night four years later, but they never knew what impact their actions had had in Chile.
In Nae Pasaran, Felipe Bustos Sierra, himself the son of a Chilean exile, investigates the very real impact of the Rolls Royce engineers’ actions. As he does so, he shares the unfolding story with four of the trade unionists involved in the boycott; Bob Fulton, Robert Somerville, Stuart Barrie and John Keenan. With humour, dignity, integrity and enormous modesty, these now-elderly men discover what their actions meant for Chileans during the Pinochet dictatorship. Towards the end of the film, one of the workers brushes off words of thanks from a Chilean former political prisoner, and instead highlights other words uttered by the Chilean: ‘I’d have done the same for you’.
Nae Pasaran is a powerful and moving portrayal of workers’ solidarity, across the world.
(The film’s UK broadcast premiere is Sunday 24 Feb 2019 on the new @BBCScotland channel. The film will be available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days afterwards.)
Prize-winning author Jon McGregor has pulled out of an appearance at the University of East Anglia due to the ongoing dispute over pensions.
The author was due to appear at the UEA Spring Literary Festival on Wednesday (7 March), but has said that he will not cross the picket line. Instead, he will headline an evening of readings at the Students’ Union in support of striking staff.
The ‘Writers for the Strike’ event will run from 5 – 7pm on Wednesday and will feature readings from leading authors including Sarah Perry and Megan Bradbury, as well as inputs from staff and students. It forms part of the ‘Alternative University’ – a programme of teach-ins and discussions organised by members of the University and College Union (UCU) taking strike action.
Author Jon McGregor said: ‘Although I had been very much looking forward to reading at the UEA Spring 2018 Literary Festival, I will not be able to do so while strike action in defence of university staff pensions is ongoing. I fully support the UCU action, and – in common with a number of university vice-chancellors, government ministers, and the opinion pages of the Financial Times – call on Universities UK to return to meaningful negotiations immediately to avoid any further disruption not just to students but to the role universities have to play in the wider cultural life.
‘I have never crossed a picket line in my life, and am not about to start now. Instead, I will be joining staff, students, and writers for an evening of readings and discussion as part of the Alternative University being put on by the Student Union.’
The pension dispute centres on proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) – a move which UCU says would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.
In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Locally, 87% of UCU members at UEA who voted backed strike action on a turnout of 66%.
UCU UEA branch spokesperson Ben Little said: ‘We really appreciate the support of all the writers and students who are making Wednesday’s ‘Writers for the Strike’ event possible. Strike action is always a last resort, but the threat to our pensions is so serious we have been left with no choice. We hope the university will seek to minimise any further disruption to students by ensuring that Universities UK commits to proper negotiations to resolve this dispute.’
UEA branch voted overwhelmingly – and on a record turn-out – to take strike action to defend the DB pension.
While there is debate over the financial implications of this, there is no evidence that maintaining a DB scheme is impossible. We believe that negotiations should resume to look at ways of managing the scheme.
The proposed change from UUK will disproportionately affect those at the start of their careers, or those intending to enter the profession in the future. We do not believe it is right that those colleagues should have worse work benefits than those later in their career; this would not be an act of solidarity, and is contrary to the communal ethos that underpins a university.
It is in this spirit that 1,000 professors – likely to be relatively unaffected by these changes – signed a letter to the Times Higher stating, “we want to stand shoulder to shoulder with all our colleagues, and especially the next generation, to defend our profession”. Similarly, we reject the current proposal on the grounds of its abandonment of early career staff, which will damage those colleagues as individuals, and the profession more broadly.
The planned strike days are as follows:
Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days);
Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days);
Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days);
Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)
There are strike FAQs here https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-action-faqs
If you support the defence of pensions, and want to take strike action, it’s not too late to join UCU – https://www.ucu.org.uk/join