Khaing Zar Aung knows all too well what it means to protest when the stakes are high.
The President of Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) and Treasurer of Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM) has joined hands with workers to call out the violent military regime that has taken over her country.
“Our members from mining, agriculture, construction, government workers, transport, gas, energy workers: we all joined the demonstration,” she said.
“Some members got killed during the demonstration because they got shot.”
Two years ago on 1 February, the Myanmar military took over the country in a coup and since then has deployed a brutal crackdown against citizen dissent.
Immediately following the coup, the streets were filled with people protesting military rule, with unions playing a leading role in the movement.
“[The military] have a list and they ask, ‘Do you know this name?’” Khaing Zar Aung said.
Myanmar’s military and police have tried to suppress civil dissent through night raids, torture, murder and wrongful imprisonment. The regime has killed around 2,800 people and illegally detained more than 17,000.
For union members, they have had their offices ransacked, their homes searched, their lives surveilled and their families evicted from government-issued housing.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have set up a Myanmar strike fund which will be distributed among workers and families who have lost their livelihoods due to strike or other protest actions.
The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and Canada have put sanctions in place in response to the coup. Australia has just joined them this week.
The Myanmar Labour Alliance – representing the united union movement in the country – said in a 2021 statement that while they understand sanctions can cost jobs and potentially worsen the economic situation in the country, they are necessary.
“The long-term presence of the military will only worsen and prolong human rights and workers’ rights violations, forced labour issues, unemployment, food shortages, refugee crisis and other oppressions. In order to escape from these crises and oppression, uprooting military regime completely is the only way.”
The Myanmar military relies on the money it gets from their business interests to fund their ongoing atrocities against civilians.
Stopping the flow of foreign funding to the military is essential to deterring further human rights abuses in Myanmar.
Up until now, the Australian Government has been slow to commit to any sanctions in line with other countries such as the US or the UK.
But due to ongoing pressure from the union movement and civil society in Australia, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong has announced sanctions on the Myanmar military leaders and two companies.
It’s a huge step in the right direction. The next stage is to implement sanctions across other major entities who support the current dictatorship in Myanmar.
Today the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar has organised a silent strike and has invited people to show support by taking a group photo with the following demands:
- Tribute to heroes of Myanmar
- Free political prisoners
- Support People’s Democracy
- Restore the legitimate government
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Cover photo credit: Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash
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