How three Scottish trade unionists saved lives in the fascist Chilean coup

A Scottish boycott grounded half the Chilean air force for four years


Last month in Glasgow, three retired Scottish workers from the Rolls-Royce factory of East Kilbride, Scotland received the highest honour given to foreign civilians from the Government of Chile, to the rank of Commander.

The Chilean ambassador was there in person to bestow the Medal of Order of Bernardo O’Higgins, on behalf of the Chilean president, to Bob Fulton, Robert Somerville and John Keenan, manual labourers and trade unionists for most of their lives.

This very special distinction was given in recognition of their stand, forty years earlier, in solidarity against the regime of General Pinochet.

In 1974, months after the coup d’etat in Chile, they received military aircraft engines belonging to the Chilean Air Force, back for maintenance. They had seen the images of the coup, they had seen the roles the warplanes had played and they knew they’d helped fix those planes. They felt a responsibility and decided that those engines were done, they wouldn’t send them back. They stuck them outside to let the Scottish weather play its part.

They held on for four years, under pressure from the Chilean Air Force, their own management and British corporations who wanted to continue doing business with the dictatorship. Yet they had the growing support of trade unions, workers across the UK, Chileans in exile and, judging by the letters they received each year, from thousands of individuals who shared their stance. It kept Chile in the papers, and it boosted the solidarity campaigns trying to rescue prisoners from concentration camps.

One night, four years later, the engines mysteriously vanished from the Rolls-Royce yard. The workers were told soon after that their gesture had accomplished nothing and they’ve lived with that false ending ever since.

I had heard of this story as a kid, my father being a journalist in exile from Chile. I found the three men a few years ago. The man who initially refused to work on the Chilean engines was an inspector called Bob Fulton. At 92, Bob is one of the most colourful human beings I’ve had the chance to meet. Gracious and curious, conversation and memories poured out of him. While he had transformed some of his recollections over the years, they always reflected his approach to life and people – full of compassion, gentle and open-minded.


He was very open from the start, baffled that someone was still looking for these engines, and doubtful yet keen to find out whatever had happened to them.

When I told him what I knew then, which is a fraction of what I know now, he broke down. Here was a man with a piece of a puzzle he had come to believe was meaningless. With their help, I started building their story back together, from their memories and confidential documents recently declassified for a short documentary called NAE PASARAN.

Thanks to the success of the short, doors opened, new documents surfaced. It turned out the Scottish boycott had grounded half the Chilean Air Force for four years. Their story even reached air force officers in prison – people who had been sentenced to death for refusing to take part in the coup – and it gave them hope.  The three men saved lives – and they never knew about it.

The recent medal ceremony in Glasgow came loaded with four decades of doubt and disappointment. As the ambassador announced the medal, the three men were surrounded by their families, their former colleagues, the activists of the Chile Solidarity campaigns and some of the Chilean exiles they’d helped. It was one of the most emotional moments I got to witness, let alone play a part in.

I am now working on the full-length feature film of NAE PASARAN. It’s the story of that investigation, that journey with the old guys as they come to discover the very real role they played against one of the most repressive modern dictatorships.

We are self-raising some of the budget ourselves to ensure we can continue filming straight away and reach significant contributors in time. Here’s the link to help fund the project.

Thank you.

Felipe Bustos Sierra is the director and producer of NAE PASARAN, a feature documentary produced by Debasers Filums and Scottish Documentary Institute

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33 Responses to “How three Scottish trade unionists saved lives in the fascist Chilean coup”

  1. CGR101

    Mmm…. Tthat was the coup that saved Chile from a communist takeover at the height of the Cold War

  2. mary burns

    the popular unity govt was a democratically elected govt with a huge majority and was elected more than once


    It was mary. I recall the news flash that said the Coup had taken place and the British Gov was recognising the provisional government! The murder and torture that followed was horrendous. A British Doctor, Sheila Cassidy was tortured apparantly the fascist thugs put a rodent into her vagina just for fun. Sadly Allende was warned about a Coup and refused to arm his supporters. The CIA orchestrated a strike with the privately owned truck drivers who refused to move food etc leading to the military Coup. And Herr Pinochet became a good friend of Thatcher. All in the history books now.

  4. Cole

    Are you completely ignorant about Chike? Or are you just another right winger who doesn’t give a toss about democracy and freedom?

  5. Cole

    It’s worth remembering how the Tories backed this murderous dictatorship.

  6. Gerschwin

    Exactly, and it’s a non story because the CIA leant the Chileans the aircraft they needed anyhow, but it’s one of those crappy non events that lefties have been trying to work into some sort of legendary heroic myth struggle for a while now, and it’s total b*ll*cks.

  7. Gerschwin

    Pinochet took over in 1973. PMs from 1974-79 were both Labour. Pinochet was arrested in 1998 in England and released by…. Tony Blair, that would also be Labour.
    You’re an idiot.

  8. Gerschwin

    Luckily for him he was a closer friend of Tony Blair and so escaped prosecution.

  9. Gerschwin

    Looks to me like you’re the ignorant one. ‘Twas Labour that backed up Pinochet, recognised him and then saved his bacon when he faced prosecution in 1998. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

  10. Damian671

    It is interesting to see that crazy fascists are still alive and well in Britain or are these commenters just paid trolls working for the facists. We have on rotter like that in NZ called Cameron slater.

  11. AdamRamsay

    You dare to defend a brutal, mass-murdering, torturing dictatorship which crushed the people of Chile? Astounding.


    Heath was in power when Pinochet came to power and subsequent governments did business with him. Lots of copper in Chile. The only hypocrisy was from Labour as they still did business with Chile whilst condemning their human rights. The Tories do not bother with human rights as long as it does not effect business. A Labour politician once said if we do not sell them arms someone will and we will lose the jobs.

  13. Cole

    Let’s forget the silly Labour stuff (and remember that Thatcher and Lamont who were noisy cheerleaders for Pinochet). What about the thousands who were tortured and murdered by these evil right wingers who evicted ab elected government?

  14. Cole

    And you imagine that’ll Pinochet would have been arrested under a Tory government. He would have been drinking champagne in No 10. As it was, he went home in disgrace.

  15. Sulla Felix

    Fuck right-wing losers. CGR go chug Drano.

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    I’m astonished you’re astonished, really. Happens all the time.

    Same for the people making excuses for Russia.

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    No, Blair was also rightist.

  18. Gerschwin

    Aha…so you didn’t vote for him? No one on this website voted for him, it was all a dream, he was never PM, it’s just make believe, and all those lefties that prattle on about the golden age of prosperity to 2010 never knew Tony Blair was their PM for a large chunk of it but they’re happy to champion it as proof of Labour competence…oh they’ll take than one no problem… but admit to voting for Blair, and you know you did, oh yes you did Leon… apparently it was all just a big dream…

  19. Leon Wolfeson

    I never voted for Blair.

    You keep whining, though.

  20. Gerschwin

    Another one… not me guv’nr, I didn’t vote for him…. no one in the Labour PIErty ever admits to voting for him. It’s becoming a sport, did you know that, asking Labour bods if they voted for Blair and seeing how quickly they squirm, shuffle their feet uncomfortably, look away in panicked frenzy and lie – just like you.

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    Keep spewing your nonsense bilge.

    I’m a left winger, not a right winger, get over it. Your “sport” of being an odious little jerk is sad. The only liar is you, as you invent what others did to fit your political correctness.

  22. Gerschwin

    Lot more people read him than read you.


    I did not vote for Pinochet and he was given the freedom of London.


    Lives were not saved. THE LEFT have to get real. After the Coup the left made their usual noises but the torture carried on for years. As it did in the former Soviet Union.

  25. Cole

    I voted for Blair, and have no regrets. He made a lot of mistakes, especially Iraq, but he was way better than the alternative.

  26. Leon Wolfeson

    And since when was internet epeen a measure of correctness?

  27. Joseph Dalton

    Good on them. Whatever the crap about who did what/when/where, stalling those engines was a good thing

  28. DialMforMurdo

    Hola Felipe, I hope you have space for Adam McNaughtan’s ‘Blood Upon the Grass’ in the documentary.

  29. DialMforMurdo

    A coup backed by Kissinger, ITT RTZ and the CIA to overthrow a democratically elected government determined to take the people out of poverty by relinquishing the grip on the land by the aristocrats.
    Land reforms had been going on for most of the decade before Allende was elected. The Frei government was the first to distribute state owned land among the dirt poor impoverished campesinos. If this was communism it was democratically arrived at.
    The USA and the UK governments have blood dripping from their hands over the thousands murdered by Pinochet and his goons. The fact that Jack Straw and Blair allowed Thatcher’s friend Pinochet to escape justice was one of the main turning points in my rejection of Labour as a socially progressive party.

  30. disqus_FRtxv8DGTV

    Anybody here realize that the coup was in 1973, and the facts depicted happened in 1978, when Chile was in the verge of being attacked (Plan “Soberanía”) by Argentina (something that U.K. knows very well after the 1982 Falkland War, and Mr. Pinochet’s support). Hawker Hunter airplanes were never used again against Chileans. Please don’t “buy” all you read, study a bit of real history instead of letting someone else show you a partial part of it.

  31. disqus_FRtxv8DGTV

    Really? Do you actually lived in Chile during Allende’s government? Were you in the lines hoping to get a piece of bread? Did you lived the over inflation that sent our economy to bankrupcy? Pinochet’s government was a dictatorship, and Allende’s government was one as well.

  32. DialMforMurdo

    Nope, I was too young. Presumably you are claiming to be Chilean and lived through both Allende and Pinochet governments, well I say governments, one was elected by popular mandate the other was a fascist dictatorship. It must have been distressing for you to see the poor being fed at the expense of the wealthy.

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