Six months after the military coup, Myanmar’s largest labor group, the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) has called for “comprehensive economic sanctions” against the military regime, seeking the international community’s support to isolate it.
The group, an alliance of unions representing the labor movement in the country, first asked the international trade union movement to boycott the military on the eve of May Day. It has now called for global support to “starve and drive out the regime.”
The military staged a coup on February 1 arresting the political leaders and activists, allegedly for ‘electoral fraud.’ Since then, a civil disobedience movement has rocked the entire country. To curb the ongoing mass uprising, the military has responded with brutal oppression which has led to the killing of more than 900 protesters while 10,000 others have been arrested in six months. More than 250,000 people have been internally displaced.
“There are no trade union rights without political freedom,” an executive committee member of CTUM, Khaing Zar, said in an interview. “The situation is very difficult for unions to operate, many of our leaders have been arrested or continue to remain in hiding after arrest warrants were issued. Collective bargaining agreements have been cancelled, and employers are passing the names, pictures and personal information of trade union members to the military. Employers use the situation to get rid of permanent workers and employ casual workers at less than the minimum wage, in unsafe factories with no COVID protections,” she said.
Zar said the global brands investing in Myanmar have not done enough to protect workers. “Worker’s lives will not improve until we remove this regime. To do this, we need to cut off all their access to resources. If they have no money, they cannot buy arms to shoot people, and they will lose control,” she said.
Myanmar’s trade union movement has stressed repeatedly how a combination of internal resistance and external solidarity and pressure is necessary to remove the regime from power. In the past few months, the group began reaching out to the international community to take initiative to isolate the regime.
According to labor groups, by “ending diplomatic and business relationships” and by recognizing the National Unity Government as the elected government, there are more chances of bringing political stability in the country.
Since February, global unions have opposed the legitimacy of the military regime at the International Labour Conference. This June the International Labour Organization adopted a resolution that called for a “return to democracy.”
Global union leaders including Valter Sanches, general secretary of IndustriALL, have reiterated the same demand.
“It is crucial to cut off the dictatorship’s revenue stream through comprehensive sanctions. The military dictatorship must be removed from UN bodies and the international community, as it was at the latest ILC, and the National Unity Government must be recognized. This must be implemented immediately, at the upcoming UN General Assembly, by all international governments that respect democracy and basic human and trade union rights,” Sanches said.