By Michael Elms
Activists in the UK labour movement are getting organised to provide solidarity to the workers of Myanmar who are on strike against the Tatmadaw military regime, which did away with elected government and democratic freedoms in a coup on 1 February this year.
On 10 April, Momentum Internationalists (MI) and other Labour activists held a meeting with Khaing Zar Aung of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), Kyaw Ni of the All-Burma Federation of Trade Unions (ABFTU), and Htuu Lou Rae of the Anti-Junta Mass Movement (AJMM), as well as Andrew Tillett-Saks, an American labour activist with the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center based in Thailand.
From that meeting, plans have gone forward to make solidarity. Activists in MI, the anti-sweatshop campaign No Sweat, and across Labour and trade unions are discussing plans for days of action, in-person demonstrations and online activities. In addition, a statement is being circulated for labour movement activists and representatives to sign. Crucially, there is also a drive to promote a fundraiser run by the local affiliate of the AFL-CIO for the benefit of the ABFTU and other Myanmar labour organisations.
The first solidarity protest actions are planned to take place in May, and will be aimed at raising awareness of the struggle in general, and at putting particular pressure on western brands. Clothing brands are one important focus of international pressure campaigns because the large, young and largely-female garment factory workforce of Yangon is one of the powerhouses of the general strike. They have been faced with threats of mass dismissals from the employer as well as repeated lethal attacks by the armed forces. The Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar has issued a list of clothing brands including stores like H&M, Marks & Spencer, Gap, and Mango, and raised the following demands:
- Denounce the coup
- Announce military regime will threaten future investment
- Cut ties with military-connected business
- Ensure no workers are dismissed for participating in CDM
The workers’ movement in Myanmar is the true bulwark of democracy. The elected government which was overthrown by the Tatmadaw was dominated overwhelmingly by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which had defended the genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority and opposed a solution to the many national minority freedom struggles in Myanmar. The workers’ movement is the powerhouse of the democracy struggle, but is also changing politics and laying the groundwork for social justice and federalism to offer autonomy to oppressed peoples in Myanmar. It is in urgent need of solidarity and support. Please get in touch with Momentum Internationalists at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign and share this statement in your Labour Party or trade union branch