Burmese junta declares labour movement illegal

Submitted by AWL on 2 March, 2021 - 6:13 Author: Sacha Ismail
Demo in Myanmar

Since this article was written on 1 March the military has escalated its crackdown, killing and injuring dozens of protesters. More soon. See here for regular updates.


In the last days of February Myanmar’s military regime killed at least 18 people and injured dozens more, using live bullets, stun grenades and tear gas against striking workers and protesters.

On 26 February the regime’s spokesman read out a list of sixteen trade unions and working-class organisations, declaring them illegal and promising persecution if they and their members continue to mobilise against the coup. The Confederation of Trades Union Myanmar has called for the world labour movement to boycott the regime’s “communications, finance, and transport sectors” (see here).

Burmese trade unionists report police and soldiers going door to door to hunt-down labour movement activists. The International Labour Organisation says that persecution is particularly focused on young, female workers.

The junta has added new charges to its “legal” indictment against State Counsellor (roughly, prime minister) Aung San Suu Kyi. As well being in possession of illegally imported walk-talkies and breaching Covid restrictions, she is now accused of breaking a telecommunications law and publishing information that might disrupt “public tranquillity”.

The junta seems to be going full-throttle to crush the organisations of Myanmar’s working class, which has not been in the least bit tranquil in the face of the coup, despite the passivity of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.

More and more labour activists will now be in the situation of garment workers’ leader Moe Sandar Myint, who is living in hiding but regularly resurfacing to lead protests.

The Burmese labour movement has called for the many brands using suppliers in the country to oppose the coup by public denouncing it; breaking off any direct links with military-owned businesses; declaring investment is jeopardised under the military regime; and, crucially, ensuring workers are not penalised in any way for participating in the democracy movement. Twenty UK unions and and NGOs have made a similar call.

Despite all the elaborate “Corporate Social Responsibility” policies, no brand has responded. Meanwhile trade unionists also report widespread employer collaboration with the military in hunting down activists.

Myanmar’s young labour movement is the only reason the coup has faced significant opposition at all. It is inspiring example of how dynamic working-class organisations and struggles can arise where little previously existed, and then play a decisive role in a social crisis. It can teach us a lot, but it also needs solidarity.

The British labour movement can do much more to make solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Myanmar. The lockdowns creates difficulty, but we can do public statements, photos, videos; and imagination may produce more ideas. The list of UK-based brands with production in Myanmar (see here) includes major names such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

The All-Burma Federation of Trade Unions is appealing for funds here.

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