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2008 National Delegate Conference
18 June 2008

Conference notes with growing alarm the unfolding natural disaster in Burma.

Conference is appalled at the response by the military junta in Burma to the natural disaster of Cyclone Nargis, illustrating as it does the contempt in which the regime holds the well-being of its own people. The failure to put in place any meaningful relief and rescue operation and to deny international aid agencies access to the stricken areas, has resulted in a natural disaster becoming a human-made one: latest estimates from the UN put the death toll at 134,000, the number made homeless at over 1 million, the total number of people affected at nearly 2.5 million and 60% of the infrastructure in the Irrawaddy Delta destroyed. Conference calls upon the Burmese government to lift the blockade on its own country and allow aid in and assistance.

Conference notes that this disaster has occurred in the context of the widespread oppression and grave human rights violations inflicted on the people of Burma by the military junta who have been in power since 1962 and who refused to accept the result of the 1990 election which was won overwhelmingly by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). In October 2007, the junta violently suppressed demonstrations initially begun by monks protesting fuel price increases but which took on a momentum resulting in tens of thousands of ordinary people taking to the streets in support of democracy. It is estimated that several hundred people were killed, including many of the monks and thousands of people were incarcerated, some of whom were merely bystanders. The junta closed down all communication with the country in the hope that the world would forget and the oppression has continued unabated since then: the renewal of the detention order against Aung San Suu Kyi on the 28th May illustrating this.

Conference further notes that the recent disaster has been much worse than it might have been due to the malign neglect over decades by the military regime resulting in the general population and workers of Burma being in extremely vulnerable conditions. Those at greatest risk are the ethnic nationality groups, for example the Karen people, and also the members and activists of political groups and labour activists who speak out against the human and workers’ rights abuses perpetrated by the regime. Trade unions are banned in Burma and those that operate, particularly the Federation of Trade Unions – Burma (FTUB) and Federation of Trade Unions – Kawthoolei (FTUK), do so clandestinely and have to base themselves abroad. Anyone who organises within Burma faces an uncertain future as membership of such groups remains punishable by imprisonment and in some cases, death. Forced labour, torture, ill treatment, sexual violence and child labour, together with starvation and forced migration are widespread. In addition, several million Burmese migrant workers face an uncertain future in Thailand and India as most are undocumented.

This is totally unacceptable to us all of us living and working in a free and democratic society and we need to act now both to prevent the continuation of such violations of fundamental human rights and to ensure that those affected by the recent disaster are able to receive the assistance they desperately need to prevent further loss of life and to enable reconstruction.

We call on the NEC to:

1) urge the British government to continue to use all means at its disposal to put pressure on the regime in Burma to ensure that aid for relief and reconstruction reaches those affected by Cyclone Nargis;

2)encourage branches to donate to the TUC Burma Cyclone Appeal;

3)call for fund managers of any investments of UNISON members’ savings or pensions to withdraw funds from any companies on the Burma Campaign ‘dirty list’ (companies that invest in Burma) and to press for UK-based companies who have ties with Burma to withdraw investment and cut their ties with Burma (Such disinvestment is advocated by Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD);

4)campaign for the release of all political prisoners, including trade unionists and labour activists, and continue to call for the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD and honorary UNISON member;

5)keep up the pressure on the UK and EU to extend sanctions to include the oil and gas industries in disinvestment policies;

6)push for a total arms embargo;

7)call on government to push for a robust UN Security Council resolution on Burma

8) continue to work with the FTUB at national level and to provide financial and organisational support to the FTUK and encourage branches to twin with FTUK affiliates;

9)invite speakers from the FTUB and FTUK to UNISON events to ensure Burma remains high on the agenda.