“One cannot overstate the heroism of the Myanmar union movement right now in the fight against the military dictatorship, nor the horror of the military’s ongoing crimes against humanity.”
So wrote Andrew Tillett-Saks, a US union organiser working in Myanmar, on 19 March. (See Tillett-Saks' Twitter for regular English-language updates.)
There is now a steady flow of killings by the regime. Current estimates in the international media, which Burmese activists say are too low, are around 250.
14 March saw almost a hundred killings, two thirds in the Yangon factory suburb of Hlaing Tharyar. The military is targeting working-class areas and trade unionists, declaring martial law in a number industrial zones. Two days after the Hlaing Tharyar massacre, six workers at a shoe factory there were killed after going to collect their wages, not receiving the full amount and arguing with the owner — who called in the military.
Meanwhile the regime is trying to wear down and break the resistance of workers participating in the “Civil Disobedience Movement”, targeting public-sector workers. It declared that teachers and education workers who did not return to work by 22 March would be “temporarily” laid off, in what is being described as the first step in mass sackings to purge the education system.
Thousands of rail workers are faced with imminent eviction from their homes.
Yet it seems very large numbers of workers are still on strike.
On 17 March Myanmar’s last independent print newspaper suspended publication, returning the country to the situation that existed for decades before 2012.
Reports suggest remarkable orderliness and restraint among protesters given the military’s brutality and provocations. There are, however, reports of growing discussions about and experiments in both defensive and offensive use of force. The Guardian reports talk about forming a “people’s army”, drawing in militias based among various of the country’s ethnic/national minorities. It’s hard to know how to assess that.
We must defend the right of the democracy movement, particularly its working-class component, to resist the coup by any means necessary, and condemn the military’s hypocritical propaganda about violence.
Some governments, including the US, and some multinational institutions have imposed limitation economic sanctions on the regime. China, a major player in the Burmese economy, has not. Myanmar’s labour movement, or the bulk of it, is calling for “comprehensive economic sanctions” (statement from the largest union federation, CTUM, here; explanation from CTUM organiser Khaing Zar Aung here).
Myanmar’s worker-heroines and heroes need support. Some things you can do:
• Donate to one of the funds to sustain the strikers. UK union United Voices of the World has launched one for the Independent Federation of Myanmar Seafarers
• Several brands with suppliers in Myanmar have shops here, including Tescos, Marks & Spencer, Primark and Lidl. So far none has agreed unions’ demands to protect workers taking part in the anti-coup movement. Organise a protest outside, take photos
• Take a photo with a sign supporting Myanmar’s workers and democracy movement and put on social media. Examples here.