Michael Naylor is executive officer of UnionAID, an international solidarity organisation and charity supporting working people and their communities to live with dignity and prosperity in Asia and the Pacific. Here, Michael discusses the military coup in Myanmar, and its impact on working people.
The military coup in Myanmar has deeply shaken hopes for democracy, but workers, unions and youth in the country are fighting back.
Following the military coup in early February a massive civil disobedience movement has gained momentum as staff from government ministries, universities, technical training institutes, banks, garment factories, and civil society organisations have refused to work and joined youth protesting in the streets. A nationwide strike on February 22 saw millions, of people join the protest strikes.
The scale of the movement shows how angry and desperate people are. Previously, military rule denied them decent education, health care and labour rights. Now they fear their children will also be robbed of a better future.
The protesters are courageous, as security forces respond with increasing violence and over 700 people shot dead by mid-April. Night-time house arrests of public service workers and other activists have become commonplace. UnionAID’s sources report this includes more than half a dozen teachers and academics. This includes Ma Myo Ae, leader of the University Teachers Association.
UnionAID has had a long relationship with Myanmar. We have supported trade unions with funding and run the Myanmar Young Leaders Programme to promote democracy and human rights.
We are receiving reports from many of the 94 alumni of the programme, many of whom are taking up leadership roles in the protests. One alum has sadly been arrested and we fear for his safety.
Unions have been organising protests and supporting striking workers. State railway workers literally lay on the tracks to stop the trains being commandeered by the military. Some of them are members of the railway union UnionAID helped established in 2012.
Hundreds of the railway workers and their families were booted out of their railway housing and hundreds of thousands of other striking workers have now gone months without pay. Thanks to the support of donors, including the TEU, UnionAID has helped provide them with basics so they can continue their strike action, the most effective tool against the junta.
While the outcome of this struggle remains unclear, we do know that the solidarity and practical support of unions here in Aotearoa means a lot to the men and women in Myanmar fighting for their democracy.
TEU nationally has pledged $1,000 to UnionAID on behalf of our members in support of the people of Myanmar and encourages others to step up and support this effort. Keep a look out next month for UnionAID’s annual appeal for donations, and find out more about their important mahi in support of working people across the world.