Often, as a member of a trade union, we are asked, “What good does a union ever do?” Well, apart from better wages, better working conditions, vacations, and benefits – not much – well here is a wee story.
On sept 11th 1973 the was a military coup in Chile. The country was overtaken by a military junta, who then proceeded to murder and torture people whom they considered subversive. They did this in unspeakable ways, Trade unionists were among those persecuted.
The regime was characterized by the systematic suppression of political parties and the persecution of dissidents to an extent unprecedented in the history of Chile.
One of the worst examples of this was when they herded thousands of the so-called subversives into the national soccer stadium and tortured and murdered them. The army and the air force were the main protagonists, with the air force bombing the palace and firing on their own people in the streets.
In April 1974. the workers in the Rolls-Royce plant in East Kilbride, Scotland, went to work as usual, and found that the company had received four engines for assessment and overhaul. It was only when one of the inspectors looked at the paperwork that he discovered the four engines were from the Chilean air force, who used Hawker Hunter jets, which in turn used Rolls-Royce Engines. He immediately informed the union, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AUEW), who immediately stopped work on the engines in support of their Chilean brothers and sisters.
After months of negotiations, the company told the union to pack the engines in their crates and put them in storage. This was done but nothing was done to prepare the engines for storage. Rolls-Royce tried to remove them and ship them to another facility but the workers of the shipping companies were informed of the Union position on these crates and would not touch them. It was four years before management hired a rogue shipping company to come in during the night to spirit these engines away. The engines were probably unserviceable after that because of the lack of preparation before storage. The actions of these brothers and sisters had the potential of saving the lives of thousands of people.
I tell you this wee story proudly because in February 1974, I started my apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce in Scotland and was working there when this action took place.
By Andy Magennis
Chief Steward, IAM LL717T