Since MYANMAR’S military coup in February this year, 4,800 miners have been on strike in Monywa township in a solid five-month action which has undermined the revenue of the military regime.
The miners’ strike has taken a toll on Myanmar’s copper exports. In February, copper exports to China fell 55 per cent on a year-on-year basis.
While the copper exports to China increased to 37.6 per cent in March, markets believe that the Chinese-owned multinational mining company Wanbao Mining Copper was selling its inventory.
The striking miners are affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union through the Mining Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (MWFM).
They work at Wanbao Mining Copper, Myanmar Yang Tse Copper, Sinohydro Power China and Pay Pauk Aukshin.
Both Wanbao Mining Copper and Myanmar Yang Tse have a revenue-sharing agreement with the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL).
The US state department has recently included the two companies in its sanctions list.
Maung Maung, the president of the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM) says: ‘The miners’ strike has effectively cut off part of the military regime’s revenue.
‘I urge the international community to support the struggle of the 4,800 brave miners.
‘Their resistance is very much dependent on undivided international solidarity.’
Valter Sanches, the general secretary of IndustriALL, says: ‘This long-lasting strike is a clear demonstration that the mineworkers represented by MWFM won’t allow the illegitimate military government to use the revenues from exports of minerals to crack down on the Burmese people carrying out the civil disobedience movement.
‘We commend the bravery of the sisters and brothers from MWFM and will continue to mobilise international solidarity until the Burmese people restore democracy in the country.’
Myanmar military general Min Aung Hlaing staged a coup on 1 February, which sparked a strong wave of civil disobedience in the South East Asian country.
The military ruthlessly repressed the movement, killing 931 people, including MWFM member Chan Myae Kyaw.
IndustriALL has called on multinational companies and brands to ensure respect for human and labour rights in their supply chains in Myanmar, mobilising IndustriALL members to contribute to a global strike fund and working with other global unions to challenge the legitimacy of the military regime at the International Labour Organisation.
The labour movement of Myanmar is calling for comprehensive economic sanctions and a boycott of the country to starve the regime of resources.
The Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) is calling for comprehensive economic sanctions against the country, and for the international community to isolate the military regime.
The CTUM is part of the 16-member Labour Alliance, representing the entire labour movement in the country.
‘There are no trade union rights without political freedom’, explained union leader Khaing Zar, president of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), and an executive committee member of the CTUM.
‘Our unions cannot operate. Many of our leaders have been arrested or are 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.
‘Global brands investing in Myanmar have not acted enough to protect workers.
‘Workers’ 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.’
The CTUM initially issued the boycott call in a May Day message to the international trade union movement, calling for support to ‘starve and drive out the regime’.
Global unions challenged the legitimacy of the military regime at the International Labour Conference, and in June and the ILO adopted a resolution calling for a return to democracy.
IndustriALL affiliates participated in a number of solidarity actions and the executive committee adopted a solidarity resolution in April.
Myanmar adopted a new constitution in 2009 and had a civilian government from 2012 until the military coup on 1 February 2021.
Under civilian rule, despite serious challenges, unions made significant progress.
The CTUM negotiated through tripartite social dialogue structures, and won significant improvements in the minimum wage and working hours.
In November 2019, the IWFM and IndustriALL negotiated freedom of association guidelines that were endorsed by ACT member brands, covering 200 factories and 130,000 workers.
This provision has been extremely useful for the IWFM’s organising and making employers respect the right to peacefully demonstrate.
As the pandemic has spread, the military has monopolised oxygen supplies, creating a health crisis.
The trade union movement in Myanmar believes that a combination of internal resistance and external solidarity and pressure is necessary to remove the regime.
The international community must isolate the regime, end diplomatic and business relationships, and recognise the National Unity Government as the legitimate representative of the people of Myanmar.
IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches said: ‘The spirit and actions of the people of Myanmar, who are risking their lives daily to overthrow the military dictatorship, are inspiring.
‘To win this fight, the demands of the Myanmar trade unions need to be taken seriously and implemented internationally.
‘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 recognised.
‘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.
‘It is also crucial to cut off the dictatorship’s revenue stream to through comprehensive sanctions.
‘We will continue to promote solidarity action, along with our affiliates and the global unions, until the people of Myanmar restore democracy and respect for human rights in the country.’
- Aung Mya Than, a reporter for the Ayeyarwady Times, was arrested at 11:00pm on July 10 at his home in Maubin following his reporting of a bombing by unidentified perpetrators in his home town.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the military junta’s continuous abuse of the media and calls on the military to release Than immediately.
Than was one of 14 journalists released on June 30 from detention across Myanmar.
He was arrested on May 25 on charges under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code and held for 36 days.
He was being held at the Maubin City Police State, according to the Ayeyarwady Times’ editor-in-chief, Salai Thant Sin.
On the morning of his arrest on June 10, Than was reporting on a bombing by unidentified perpetrators in Maubin.
It is unclear when Than was released from detention and whether the Section 505(a) charges against him were officially dropped.
Radio Free Asia reports that 26 reporters are currently in hiding due to warrants being put out for their arrest.
Many others have been forced to leave their homes and seek asylum with friends or family because the military have allegedly raided their homes.
Section 505(a) of the Penal Code is a broad and vague law that effectively allows the military to arrest journalists for doing their jobs.
The law criminalises all attempts to ‘hinder, disturb, damage the motivation, discipline, health and conduct of the military personnel and government employees’ and these subjective phrases can and have been used to quell dissent during Myanmar’s civil war.
Since the start of the military coup in February 2021, 89 domestic and international reporters have been arrested and 37 are still detained, according to Reporting ASEAN.
Out of the all the arrests, 28 of them have been charged under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code.
The media have been explicitly targeted by the military junta for reporting on the frontlines throughout the coup.
The IFJ said: ‘The military junta in Myanmar is putting extreme pressure on the media to stay quiet. This is evident in the widespread arrests of journalists under Section 505(a).
‘The IFJ urges the military to release Aung Mya Than and assure the safety of all journalists. Quality journalism like that of Aung Mya Than is an essential tool for spreading information and shining a light on the darkness that is Myanmar’s civil war.