At least two people were killed by Myanmar’s military over the weekend of 20 February, as it was confronted by fresh mass protests to overturn the coup it launched on 1 February. There is now a steady flow of confirmed killings, as well as unconfirmed reports of significantly larger numbers of deaths.
The army’s claims that it is only using rubber bullets have been categorically disproved.
The two latest dead are a young man and a teenage boy. Half of Myanmar’s population are under 25 (three quarters under 40) and the protests seem dominated by young people. The regime’s attitude is surely summed up by its public statement on the renewed, vast wave of demonstrations on 22 February:
“It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life.”
The UN’s “special rapporteur” in Myanmar says that the 33rd Light Infantry Division was involved in the latest killings. It should be noted that this unit was central to the mass killings, rape and arson that drove the best part of a million Rohingya people out of Myanmar in 2017.
At least 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Activists are talking about 22.2.2021, referring to the 8 August 1988 (8.8.88) uprising against the military, and about a “five twos revolution”. Groups of police have now joined the protests and publicly demonstrated against the regime.
The two protesters murdered were shot at a striking shipyard workers' demonstration in the country's second city, Mandalay. The role of workers – particularly young workers – and specifically working-class forms of action, including large-scale strikes in a very wide range of industries, is very prominent in this struggle.
Talk about a general strike look increasingly plausible.
Garment workers, whose industry accounts for 30% of Myanmar’s exports and who have fought sustained struggles over conditions and the right to organise over the last decade, pioneered workers’ mobilisation against the coup. Their unions are calling for brands with suppliers in Burma to oppose the coup by publicly denouncing it; ensuring no workers are disciplined for participation in the “Civil Disobedience Movement”; immediately breaking links with military-owned businesses; and declaring that investment is jeopardised under the military regime.
• See here for a list of brands being targeted, many of them based or widespread in the UK. We need to think about how we can exert pressure on them under the lockdown.
• One of Myanmar’s union federations, the All Burma Federation of Trade Unions, has launched an appeal for funds to support the strike movement, which can be donated to here.
• The British labour movement has not been particularly vocal about events in Myanmar. We should try to pull it into action, with more solidarity messages, photos, videos, etc, as well support the Burmese trade unions’ appeals.
An acid test
We hope to carry interviews with labour movement activists in Myanmar soon. Meanwhile, we would re-emphasise two further important points.
As in many worker-led democracy struggles, there is a wide gap between workers’ organisation and militancy and the political forces likely to benefit if they are victorious. The leadership of the National League for Democracy is wretched, characterised in government since 2015 by neo-liberal economics, subservience to the military, and indifference towards the suppression of ethnic minorities. It worked to cover up and downplay the military’s genocidal drive against the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s workers’ movement needs its own political voice.
More immediately, a fundamental political test for the democracy movement is its attitude to the country’s minority peoples and in particular the Rohingya. There are hopeful signs that the struggle against the coup is generating changes (see this article and those it links to at the end), but there is a catastrophic reality and legacy to overcome.
Solidarity with Myanmar’s workers, democracy activists and oppressed minorities.