Striking Back

March 27th, 2021  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  10 minute read
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The general strike and the CDM that aim to paralyze the military regime are led by the courageous people on the ground. Cognizant of the economic burden that they are facing, they continue to resist.

The intense crackdowns in Yangon’s industrial areas, and in particular, Hlaingtharyar, and imposition of martial law in parts of Yangon and Mandalay immediately after by Myanmar’s military regime, are a new phase of brutality, causing thousands to flee the city. It also represents the targeting of some of the most organized and resolute sectors of this diverse resistance movement – workers.

Starting on Sunday, 14 March, Hlaingtharyar, a working class, industrial township of Yangon that houses hundreds of factories and hundreds of thousands of workers, resembled a warzone. The junta’s police and army engaged in massacres, almost doubling the death toll in a few days, with nearly 50 dead in the township in a single day – March 14. Fires burned as factories were set alight, the police and military indiscriminately shot into people’s homes, snipers aimed at people’s heads, and medics were attacked for trying to help injured protesters. Martial law has since been declared, as well as in ten other townships in Yangon and Mandalay, meaning that soldiers can dispense arbitrary justice without recourse to any legal proceedings, or in other words, ‘shoot on sight.’ The violence and killings continued the following day and night, as the army sealed off bridges and roads into the area, creating terror in the neighbourhood, shooting into people’s homes at night. As one Hlaingthryar resident told Myanmar Now, “They were on trucks and shot at anything that moved. They shot anyone they saw.”

The violence and massacres went on into Tuesday the 16th. In one particularly egregious incident, a factory owner called his workers to come and collect their pay. After a dispute over the amount paid, the factory owner called the police and military, who shot a woman and arrested 70 people. Demonstrators gathered at the factory later that day, only to be on the receiving end of a massacre, as security forces opened fire on the protesting workers, killing at least six people. The situation is now dire in the township, as electricity cuts, roads blocked off by the military, scrutiny over guest registration in people’s houses, as well as the internet restrictions that are in place throughout the country, but felt more so in Hlaingtharyar where there is less home wi-fi, means there is less information getting out. Thousands of Hlaingtharyar residents have fled the township, heading to the countryside to seek shelter in their home villages while those remaining continue to live in fear.

Hlaingtharyar is known as one of the most working class townships of the city and the nature of the resistance, including more strident self-defence measures such as the roadblocks and barricades and countering the military’s advances by charging at advancing soldiers demonstrates not just a steely resoluteness, but an extraordinary level of bravery. The violent reaction by the military, however, such as the dozens of killings, shows how the military regime is willing to escalate its violence at any time. The military regime is clearly trying to break the resistance of workers, including factory workers as well as public sectors workers such as doctors, teachers, and other civil servants. The striking workers of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) know that they run the very real risk of dying for the cause, but continue to show resolute commitment anyway. It is telling that in Hlaingtharyar, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Yangon and where people will be impacted by economic hardships first and the most, are providing some of the most defiant resistance to the military regime. Workers already operate in an environment where labour rights are precarious, wages are low, and they have to fight to organize. They are also fully aware of the consequences of their actions, and condescension regarding their political actions harming economic prosperity, such as this ‘analysis’ made by the Financial Times, is insulting. Rather, the unions are calling on international brands such as Adidas, Lidl, and Zara, among others, to publicly state that they support the CDM and will ensure that no striking workers will be sacked from the factories that provide their cheaply made apparel. They are also calling for financial support for the financial burden of their struggle such as withheld wages and daily basic necessities.

Added to the economic hardship that the movement is willing to bear is the tightening of restrictions around cashflow to civil society organizations. In a classic move of authoritarian states around the world, the regime has seized control of the bank accounts of the George Soros-established Open Society Myanmar (OSM), a locally-based foundation, and issued arrest warrants for OSM employees, claiming they had provided financial support for the CDM. The junta-controlled Central Bank of Myanmar has also sent notice that all financial transactions coming from abroad to NGOs and INGOs since 2016 must be reported. It is reported that discussions by the illegitimate regime were held to address the “illegal inflow of foreign money to associations and action to be taken against support of manpower and money behind riots and protests.” Meanwhile civil servants have been forced to forgo wages for participating in the CDM and have been evicted from their government housing. The military regime is clearly trying to control cashflow to the movement, attempting to make the economic hardship so severe that protesters will go back to work. This shows that while the junta is clearly hurting at the paralysis of the economy, it will try to ensure that the workers bear this burden. That the civil servants would rather leave their government housing than back down from their participation in CDM, as these railway workers in Mandalay are doing, or that workers across the country continue to be on the streets, shows the determination of the movement.

The general strike and the CDM that aim to paralyze the military regime are led by the courageous people on the ground. Cognizant of the economic burden that they are facing, they continue to resist. Rather than sounding warnings on the impact this may have on the country’s GDP, an entry point for international support for this people’s movement for democracy is to provide assistance to the movement so they can continue their coming together and strike for their future and that of new generations to come, free from the military’s violent oppression and persecution. Targeted economic sanctions from the international community against the military and their conglomerates and business associates must be imposed in response to the collective calls from the Myanmar people, led by the CRPH, while complementing the boycott of military companies by Myanmar people inside the country. The boycott of military companies inside the country must also be complemented by targeted economic sanctions from the international community against the military and their conglomerates and business associates. Such concrete measures will not only show that the international community stands with the people of Myanmar – not with the junta – but will push the military junta to respond to meet the peoples’ legitimate demands. That is to end the violence, release all those detained and return democracy. Time has well passed for the international community to issue statements expressing ‘deep concern’. They must take the action. The movement must be supported.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Covid-19 response in Myanmar: civil society organizations urge IFIs not to collaborate with the junta

By 225 Myanmar Civil Society Organizations

CSOs Express Deep Disappointment Over UN Security Council Lack of Action, and Condemn China, Russia, India and Vietnam’s Position on the Situation of Myanmar

By 488 Myanmar Civil Society Organizations

Statement by Ambassadors to Myanmar

By Ambassadors to Myanmar

UK Calls on Commonwealth Members To Impose Burma Arms Embargoes

By Burma Campaign UK

Death Toll Rises as the International Community Fails to Act in Myanmar

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Myanmar military files criminal mutiny charges against The Irrawaddy, detains 2 journalists

By Committee to Protect Journalists

Kachin Political Interim Coordination Team (KPICT)

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

Statement by Dr Sasa, Special Envoy to the United Nations of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), The Union Parliament of Myanmar

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

Announcing the removal of terrorist organization or unlawful organization of all Ethnic Armed Organizations

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

Joint Statement Condemning Violence in Myanmar

By Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Myanmar

Statement from the General Strike Committee of Nationalities

China should respect its own ‘non-interference’ policy

By General Strike Committee of Nationalities

More than 130 people have been killed and over 2,000 arrested since the 1 February coup

By Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

HWPL Statement on Human Rights Crisis in Myanmar

By Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light

Myanmar: UN experts raise alarm over forced evictions, escalation of rights violations

By High Commissioner for Human Rights

Martial Law in Myanmar a Death Knell for Fair Trials

Myanmar Junta Expands Crackdown Following Bloodbath

By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar: a civilian government and the rule of law must be restored (UN Statement)

By International Commission of Jurists

Full Support for Democracy, Peace, Rule of Law in Myanmar

By International Organization for Migration

Recipients of illegal orders should contact us

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Myanmar: Martial law is Another Dangerous Escalation of Repression

By International Commission of Jurists

Info Birmanie and Justice For Myanmar welcome suspension of Shweli-3 hydropower dam

By Info Birmanie and Justice For Myanmar

Statement Regarding the KNU Mutraw District’s/ KNLA 5th Brigad’s Zero Tolerance against supplying rice to the Burma Army

By KNU (Mutraw District)

KNU ကို အမည်ခံပြီး ကိုယ်ကျိုးရှာနေသူများနှင့် စပ်လျဥ်း၍ ကေအဲန်ယူ-ကရင်အမျိုးသားအစည်းအရုံး၏ အသိပေးကြေညာချက်

By Karen National Union

Statement by the Prime Minister of Malaysia on the Situation in Myanmar

By Malaysia Prime Minister

Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (9 – 15 March 2021)

By Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Occupation of schools by security forces in Myanmar is a serious violation of children’s rights

By Save the Children, UNESCO and UNICEF

Briefing Note-Myanmar

By Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

UNAIDS warns that violence in Myanmar is impeding access to services for people living with and affected by HIV


Rising food and fuel prices a looming threat to the poorest and most vulnerable in Myanmar, warns WFP

By United Nations World Food Programme

Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General – on Myanmar

By United Nations Secretary-General

Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General – on Myanmar

By UN Secretary-General

Myanmar military and security forces must be held accountable for unlawful death in custody, including that of Ma Malar Win

By Women’s Peace Network

The Women’s League of Burma Welcomes the Statement of the President of Republic of Indonesia to Call for Ending Violence against Civilians and Host and Emergency ASEAN Summit

By Women’s League of Burma

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”