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Issue #1898      December 11, 2019

Nae Pasaran and the power of unions

In order to further the struggle to protect and advance union rights – particularly against the onslaught of three successive Liberal governments – the organisation Union Solidarity WA has been founded.

On the 1st of December, Union Solidarity WA organised a screening of the 2018 documentary Nae Pasaran, winner of “Best Feature” at that year’s British Academy Scotland Awards, with several members of CPA Perth in attendance. The event began with speeches on the topic of solidarity, and a live musical performance of Spanish-language socialist songs. Representatives from Filipino diaspora organisation Migrante International also led a group rendition of The Internationale, in Tagalog and English.

Nae Pasaran details the story of a group of Scottish workers at a Rolls-Royce factory who, aware of the establishment via coup of the fascist Pinochet government in Chile, refused to work on the jet engines marked for the Chilean air force, from 1974 through 1978. The engines instead sat idle at the factory in Scotland.

The engines were for the British-made Hawker Hunter jet fighters, which had been used in the 1973 coup to bomb the presidential palace (“La Moneda”). Democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende refused to be forced by the military attack to resign or leave La Moneda. Instead he broadcasted his final speech to the Chilean people:

“Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.”

A few hours later he was dead, and the military under Augusto Pinochet had already begun its reign of terror, rounding up known or suspected socialists and progressive people and imprisoning, torturing and killing thousands. The film includes testimony from several political prisoners held at that time, and shows footage of bodies dumped in public by the military to spread fear and submission among the Chilean people.

The well known US political, economic, and logistical backing for the coup and the Pinochet dictatorship is a prime example of the cruelty of American anticommunism and gives the lie to the US claim of upholding democracy.

Thanks to the Scottish workers’ action, the Pinochet air force’s stock of airworthy Hawker Hunters diminished. Several testimonies given in the film agree that the disruption caused to Pinochet’s military, the power base of the dictatorship, led to several prisoners being released as part of a bargain, possibly with the British government (although the latter is denied by the British officials and politicians interviewed in the film).

The workers had no idea of any concrete impact of their action at the time. In a particularly moving segment, the filmmakers showed the workers video messages from some of the prisoners released, thanking them for their solidarity and sharing the personal significance of their action.

As a young adult, it was inspiring to me to see how the unionised Scottish workers thought it was common sense that they must take the chance to act against injustice on the other side of the world. Their action (and I would argue their prerequisite political consciousness) was made possible by the relative strength of the union movement in the country at that time. It is hard to imagine such a thing in say, today’s Australia. If anyone cared enough to try such a thing in just about any industry, the company would fire them all on the spot! Instead, the workers had the power to withdraw their labour, and the collective will to see it through for years.

This highlights the two intertwined significances of the term “union solidarity” – both the importance of community solidarity with unions and the power of the solidarity of unions with progressive causes.

There is a low level of union membership amongst young people in Australia today. Most are unfamiliar with the basic concepts and history of workers’ unions in our country. Support for many progressive causes and ideals are widespread among the youth. However, it typically assumes individualistic forms, lacking awareness of the core necessity for collective organisation and action in achieving progress in these causes. The task of increasing the membership and strength of unions in Australia, particularly among young people, is of crucial importance in rebuilding the workers’ movement and challenging the corporate dictatorship of the monopolies over our economic and political life, and realising social independence for the working class.

Making gains in working-class power requires a class-conscious collective spirit and strong collective organisation. The two key uniquely working-class forms of organisation are the workers’ party and the trade unions. Building both of these is absolutely necessary to advance the cause of the working class and, all oppressed peoples.

Nae Pasaran depicts a snapshot of a lost time of relative strength in the workers’ movement of a Western country, but far from being a grim obituary surrendering such hopes to the past, it proves the significance and attainability of such a movement’s rebirth. This film is a good candidate for further screenings by unions and community groups.

I hope to see a time soon when, like the group of Scottish factory workers of 1974, the workers of my generation see such collective action and solidarity as simple common sense.

Next article – CPA Party Statement – West Papua

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