THE WEEKEND saw the bloodiest crackdown by the Myanmar military dictatorship when police and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators killing at least 18 and wounding over 30 people.
According to the UN Human Rights Office on Sunday: ‘In several locations throughout the country, police and military forces have confronted peaceful demonstrations, using lethal force and less-than-lethal force.’
Before the weekend four protesters had been killed by the police and this increased violence, with police and soldiers deliberately firing live ammunition into the crowds of demonstrators in the cities of Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pakokku, marks the growing desperation of the military faced with a general strike that has closed the country down.
The army generals seized control of Myanmar (formerly Burma) on February 1st declaring that the landslide election of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party was fraudulent.
In the weeks following the seizure of power the entire country has been gripped by rallies in towns and cities with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets. These mass demonstrations demanding the overthrow of the military have been led by a general strike that has paralysed the country and the military regime.
Doctors, engineers, railway workers and farmers along with civil servants have come out defying all attempts by the army to break their strike.
Last Friday, just before the army unleashed lethal fire on demonstrators, the military declared on public television that most of the country’s labour organisations were illegal and threatened arrests if the strikes continued. Trade unions in Myanmar have been at the forefront of the fight against the military junta. The Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM), the largest union federation, called the first general strike on February 8th.
Workers from municipal governments and the ministries of Commerce, Electricity and Energy, Transport and Communications, and Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation have joined the strike actions, leaving many departments deserted.
Strikes have paralysed the transportation sector. According to an official from the Myanmar Railways 99% of railway employees are on strike, leading to a national shutdown of train services.
Garment workers, who have been fighting for years for wages and improvements to the harsh working conditions imposed by the bosses, have been leading the strike call.
The $6 billion garment industry, which supplies global brands, employs 700,000 workers and in 2019 accounted for 30% of Myanmar’s exports.
As Andrew Tillett-Saks, a labour organiser based in Myanmar, noted: ‘The sight of industrial workers, largely young, women garment workers, seems to have deeply inspired the general public, broken down some of the fear, and catalysed the massive protests and general strike we are seeing now.’
Last week the military moved to break the unions with police issuing arrest warrants for 20 union leaders, the majority from the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), including the union vice-president Soe Lay. Its president, Khang Zar, issued a statement saying: ‘IWFM has worked relentlessly to protect the rights and improve the lives of garment workers and their families since we were allowed back into the country after the previous dictatorship, back in 2012.
‘Together, Myanmar’s people and the international community can bring back democracy. Through civil disobedience, protest and strikes, the people of Myanmar are speaking up clearly and loudly. We need the international community to do the same. We need you to stand by our side to make this coup collapse.’
So far, the only response of the official ‘international community’ has been for the foreign ministers of the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the United States) to formally condemn the coup and urge the Myanmar security forces to ‘exercise utmost restraint and respect human rights and international law.’
Myanmar workers and youth will place no faith in appeals by the imperialist nations for the military to peacefully move aside.
With the general strike paralysing the military junta, and with a powerful working class that will not be intimidated into submission, the immediate issue is to go forward from the general strike to the struggle to bring down the junta and replace it with a workers’ and small farmers’ government and socialism.