Workers Stand Strong Against Military Junta

November 22nd, 2021  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  9 minute read
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“The ability of workers and their trade unions to organize and mobilize ever since the attempted coup have played a major factor in the resistance.”

It has been over a year since the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) resounding landslide victory on 8 November, 2020, an election significant not only in terms of the voter support for the NLD and disenfranchisement of the Rohingya and other Muslims but also in terms of the clear repudiation of the Myanmar military and military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Many are reflecting on the events that have shaped the past year, which has seen a brutal attempted coup d’etat, continuing and reignition of large scale conflict in ethnic areas, heinous scorched earth operations against civilian populations in central and western Myanmar, deepening humanitarian crisis, economic collapse, all occurring during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Yet, the UN Security Council has again failed to meet this moment and effectuate peace and security in Myanmar as a part of their mandate under the UN Charter in the wake of this illegally attempted coup, even after repeated siren calls from civil society and the people of Myanmar. Most recently, 521 civil society organizations stressed the need for the UN Security Council to take urgent action to prevent attacks in north-western Myanmar as the military junta geared up for a massive military offensive in Chin State and Sagaing and Magwe Regions. The response from the UN Security Council was through a press statement echoing familiar language from previous statements and statements from other UN bodies, such as ‘deep concern’, calling for a ‘cessation in violence’ and ‘the military to show the utmost restraint’. This statement could be seen as “diplomatic success” as it was agreed to by all 15-members, particularly the 2 largest defenders of the murderous Myanmar military, China and Russia. However, it is wholly insufficient to address an attempted coup nine months on, and similar to the UN Security Council’s statement on 4 February, 2021, and previous statements condemning this military during the Rohingya Genocide in 2017, it has not deterred the military junta from continuing to perpetrate atrocity crimes. In a press release in response, representatives from Myanmar civil society organizations expressed their deep disappointment at the Council’s repeated failure to take proportionate actions given the gravity of the crisis in Myanmar. In the press release, Wai Wai Nu of Women Peace Network recalled the historical failure by the UN Security Council, saying “The lack of action by the UN Security Council is appalling. They failed to act before and after the 2017 Rohingya genocide and they are once again failing the people of Myanmar as the Myanmar military junta commits egregious crimes including crimes against humanity with total impunity.”

In spite of the UN Security Council’s failings, the people of Myanmar continue to stand strong in their opposition to the military junta and steadfast towards their goal of a fully-fledged federal democracy. The Spring Revolution marches on with sporadic protests, civil disobedience activities, boycotts of military products and strikes organized by the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), labor unions, General Strike Committees, student groups and youth organizations. Workers and labor unions were one of the first groups that appeared on the street protests in Yangon after the 1 February coup attempt and have been a strong presence within the resistance since, being able to mobilize large numbers of people behind a unified message and collective actions. Many within unions belong to sectors that have made massive sacrifices for the cause, including arbitrary arrest, loss of life, living under Martial Law and suffered job losses as a result of the junta’s brutal crackdown. Those in the CDM and General Strike Committees have risked everything for this cause and have been months without jobs, steady income and with some being evicted from housing connected with their employment. The International Labor Organization (ILO) predicted in July that 2.2 million jobs had been lost and 1.2 million jobs had been suspended, with 30 percent of these job losses in the garment industry – an industry dominated by women. The ILO says that women represent three fifths of these job losses.

These massive job losses, which are now likely to far exceed the numbers stated in July, are indicative of the wider economic collapse in Myanmar that the junta’s has caused since its attempted coup – driving millions of people into poverty. According to Myanmar’s UN Humanitarian Coordinator, 3 million people are in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance, with the number only likely to rise and food insecurity in cities becoming rampant. For those still in employment, low wages that have not kept up with currency hyper-inflation and deteriorating employment conditions are adding to people’s hardships. According to an online discussion organized by Myanmar Labour News about the current situation of workers in Myanmar on 7 November, employers are threatening to hand over workers to the military junta if they complain about working conditions – putting them in the position of accepting unpaid overtime and poor working conditions.

Many of these labor unions are involved in driving advocacy in connection with global union networks to try and influence change within governments to end the military’s campaign of terror – including the use of economic sanctions. Yet, workers within Myanmar are conscious that any economic sanctions applied to Myanmar could adversely affect their livelihood. For instance, the Worker’s Solidarity League of Burma has conducted a survey of 400 workers across different sectors in which 97 percent of those surveyed did not want to see a Comprehensive Economic Sanctions (CES) that would impact them. The ability of workers and their trade unions to organize and mobilize ever since the attempted coup have played a major factor in the resistance. While working conditions and threats in these sectors continue, decimating whole sectors such as garments would hamper this organizational ability. Furthermore, CES are a blunt tool that would have minimal impact on the junta’s financial health, unlike major industries in which they are heavily invested and implicated in, such as mining of precious stones, oil and gas, and through sectors that military-run conglomerates – Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd and Myanmar Economic Corporation are majorly invested in. International governments must step up and impose more precisely calculated targeted sanctions against military junta’s leaders, military affiliated businesses and military cronies, as well as initiating a global arms embargo and refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. Such targeted sanctions would directly impact the ability of the junta to finance its campaign of terror and would force them to capitulate and yield power to the civilian government.

Since the UN Security Council remains largely inactive on the crisis in Myanmar, the international community must rally around the people of Myanmar to support the Spring Revolution, including by supporting people within the CDM, General Strike Committees, civil society organizations, and labor unions, with their roadmap to establish a genuine federal democracy. Particularly, businesses that operate in Myanmar must support workers, including those who joined the protests, through this difficult time by continuing to operate their business or furlough employees with financial support. Especially, where the UN Security Council falters, the international community must step up to further support those on the ground in Myanmar who have risked and sacrificed everything for democracy. The people of Myanmar deserve to live in a fully-fledged democracy with dignity, free from military violence and impunity.


[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

Myanmar: US journalist Danny Fenster sentenced to 11 years in prison

By Amnesty International

AAPP Press Release: 10,000 Documented Detentions Since 1 February

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

CDF-Matupi ၏ တိုက်ပွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် (၂၀၂၁ ခုနှစ်၊ နိုဝင်ဘာလ (၁၁) ရက်နေ့။)

By Chinland Defense Force – Matupi

တိုက်ပွဲသတင်း ထုတ်ပြန်ချက် (နိုဝင်ဘာလ (၁၀) ရက်၊ ၂၀၂၁ ခုနှစ်)

By Chaung U People’s Defence Force, Monywa People Defence Force, Myaung Special People’s Defense Force, 27 Revolution Forces and T.G.R (Myaung)

Statement on the Anniversary of 2020 General Election

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

Myanmar/Burma: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union

By Council of the European Union

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ – မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအခြေအနေနှင့်စပ်လျဉ်း၍ ဥရောပသမဂ္ဂကိုယ်စား အဆင့်မြင့်ကိုယ်စားလှယ်၏ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By Council of the European Union

Atrocity Alert No. 278: Myanmar (Burma), Niger and Sudan

By Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

လိင်ပိုင်းဆိုင်ရာအကြမ်းဖက်မှု ကာကွယ်ရေးမူဝါဒနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ ရှင်းလင်းချက် နှင့် လိင်ပိုင်းဆိုင်ရာ အကြမ်းဖက်မှုကာကွယ်ရေးမူဝါဒ (final) အား ထုတ်ပြန်ခြင်း

By Interim University Council – University of Yangon

CPA Australia and CA ANZ withdraw from ASEAN Federation of Accountants Conference after grassroots pressure

By Justice For Myanmar

တိုက်ပွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် (၂၀၂၁ ခုနှစ်၊ နိုဝင်ဘာလ (၈) ရက်နေ့။)

By Karenni Nationalities Defense Force

တိုက်ပွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် (၂၀၂၁ ခုနှစ်၊ နိုဝင်ဘာလ (၁၁) ရက်နေ့။)

By Karenni Nationalities Defense Force

အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရ ဆက်သွယ်ရေး၊ သတင်းအချက်အလက်နှင့် နည်းပညာဝန်ကြီးဌာန ကြေညာချက် အမှတ် (၈/၂၀၂၁) – အမည်ပျက်စာရင်းကြေညာခြင်း

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Communications, Information and Technology)

အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရ ပညာရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန ကြေညာချက်အမှတ်(၄၁/၂၀၂၁)

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Education)

National Unity Government’s policy on sanctions

By National Unity Government

အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရ၊ စီးပွား‌ရေးနှင့် ကူးသန်းရောင်းဝယ်ရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက် (၂/၂၀၂၁) – အကြမ်းဖက်စီးပွားရေးလုပ်ငန်းများဆို

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Commerce)

H.E. Dr. SaSa’s Statement Regarding The Attack on Indian Defense Commander, Family And Personnel

By National Unity Government (Ministry of International Cooperation)

အမျိုးသား ညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရ၊ တရားရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန၊ ကြေညာချက်အမှတ် ၆/၂၀၂၁ – မြန်မာနိုင်ငံလုံးဆိုင်ရာ ပြည်သူ့တရားရေးဝန်ထမ်းများ အဖွဲ့အစည်း (ယာယီ) အလုပ်အမှုဆောင်ကော်မတီ ဖွဲ့စည်းကြောင်း ကြေညာခြင်း

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Justice)

Bachelet deplores persecution of journalists in Myanmar

By Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

PDF-Kalewa ၏ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက် အမှတ်-၁/၂၀၂၁

By People’s Defence Force – Kalewa

တိုက်ပွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက် (၂၀၂၁ခုနှစ်၊ နိုဝင်ဘာလ၊ ၁၀ရက်)

By Pale PDF-Headquarters

Representatives from Myanmar civil society organizations “deeply disappointed” as UN Security Council once again fails to take action

By Progressive Voice, Women Peace Network and Chin Human Rights Organization

Humanitarian Assistance Alone Is Not A Solution

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

On Danny Fenster’s Sentencing

By United States Department of State

Statement from ERC Martin Griffiths regarding the increasing violence and humanitarian need in Myanmar

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

One-year anniversary of the 2020 Myanmar elections: UK statement

By United Kingdom (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office)



Access Denied: The Myanmar Military Junta’s Deprivation of Lifesaving Aid in Karenni (Kayah) State

By Fortify Rights

Oct 25–Nov 7, 2021 Summary of SAC human rights violations in Karenni State and Pekhon Township

By Karenni Civil Society Network

Hornbills and Powder Horns: Chin State Resists

By Project Maje

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.”