MYANMAR (formerly called Burma) was brought to a halt yesterday as hundreds of thousands of workers and youth answered the call for a general strike to bring down the military junta which seized power in the country three weeks ago.
The army seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s government on February 1st and the junta imprisoned the former leader and hundreds of officials from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Suu Kyi was overthrown and imprisoned despite her being nothing more than a puppet for the military that pulled her strings throughout the time of the NLD government.
She was dumped by the military as it prepared for civil war against Burmese workers and small farmers.
On Monday the Burmese people fought back in an inspiring demonstration of their strength and determination.
Large crowds defied the threats of violence to take to the streets in cities across the country, including Yangon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay, where security forces shot dead two protesters and injured several others on Saturday.
Banks, supermarkets, local vendors and most other businesses were shut in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. Only a few tea shops and other small businesses were open.
Major roads and highways that were blocked by the military junta on Monday morning were swiftly reopened by local people.
Even before yesterday’s massive action the call for a workers to strike against the military dictatorship had paralysed the government.
Last week it was reported that thousands of public sector workers from at least 245 districts and 21 ministries are on strike, according to Kim Jolliffe, an independent researcher.
Government offices are deserted along with classrooms while many public hospitals have, in effect, shut down. The news website Irrawaddy reported last week that: ‘Operations at many government departments all but halted this week.’
The general strike by bank workers has led to the country’s entire banking system seizing up with most branches closed down.
A manager at a branch of the Aya bank in the city of Yangon told the press that he and nearly all of his staff have been on strike for a week and that bank lending has dried up adding: ‘A dysfunctional financial sector would definitely hurt the regime.’
The Myanmar Economic Bank, which the government uses to pay bills and salaries, is at a ‘near standstill’ with workers and many tax collectors on strike.
As Jolliffe observes, the military may end up with neither the infrastructure nor the money to pay wages or bills noting: ‘This is a real pressure point and is something the military probably did not include in their game plan.’
The military reckoned without the massive power of the Burmese working class organised in a general strike who have defied all attempts by the army and security services to force them back to work.
Indeed, as yesterday’s massive response showed, workers and young people are more determined than ever to bring down the military dictatorship.
Ahead of the strike the military issued ever increasing threats of violence with state-owned media warning that ‘protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life.’
Far from these threats, or the killing of three young protesters already during the uprising, acting as a deterrent they have galvanised even more workers and small shopkeepers to join the protests in the biggest day of action since the coup.
The general strike has shown the working class and youth, not just in Myanmar but throughout the world, the massive power of the working class – far more powerful than the military junta.
Myanmar workers have broken with peaceful protest and now the immediate issue is to go from the general strike to the struggle to bring down the military junta and replace it with a workers’ and small farmers’ government that will expropriate the bosses and landowners along with the military and advance to socialism.
This requires building a conscious revolutionary party, a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, prepared to lead the struggle for socialist revolution to victory.