UN day for democracy: taking action with Myanmar

UNISON calls for the immediate end of military violence and power, the release of all political prisoners and the restoration of civilian government

Myanmar flag – white star on yellow, green and red horizontal stripes

Tomorrow, 15 September, marks the UN day for democracy. It’s a moment to review the state of democracy around the world and to encourage governments to strengthen their democratic institutions and processes. This year in particular marks a fragile point in the fight for democracy.

Myanmar’s democracy has collapsed after 10 years of democratic process. In February, the military seized control, claiming widespread voter fraud after a landslide election victory by the National League for Democracy.

The United Nations General Assembly is set to meet and decide the fate of Myanmar’s representation at the UN. Will the seat go to the illegitimate and authoritarian military junta or the pro-democracy, recently formed, National Unity Government? Christina McAnea recently wrote to foreign secretary, Dominic Raab MP calling for the latter.

The coup wasn’t only a crushing blow for democracy, but also for the trade union movement that had been building in the country.

Since February, 1.2 million jobs have been lost, compounding the economic problems brought about by the slowdown of business from foreign companies through the COVID-19 pandemic – in key industries such as the garment sector.

As a result, the World Bank reports that Myanmar’s economic growth reduced by 80% in 2020 with its economy shrinking by 18% since the coup. Devastatingly, the UN Development Programme predicts that, by early 2022, 60% of the population will be living below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, labour rights are being rolled back in factories and other workplaces as collective bargaining agreements are ripped up. Wages are being dropped to minimum wage or below and job security is being gutted as permanent jobs are changed into casual ones where workers can be hired on a daily basis.

Those workers active in the civil disobedience movement who went on strike have not got their jobs back and the junta continues to seek them out alongside other trade union activists. Thousands have been murdered, thousands more detained and untold numbers are still in hiding, moving nightly to avoid the same fate.

Since the coup, UNISON has been lobbying the government to impose targeted sanctions on military owned economic interests and have called on them to support the military’s prosecutions at the international courts.

UNISON head of international Nick Crook said: “In solidarity with the people of Myanmar, UNISON calls for the immediate end of military violence and power, release of all political prisoners and restoration of civilian government.”

While the government has taken the welcome step of sanctioning some of the military’s economic interests, there has been no significant progress in the fight for accountability and justice, with foreign secretary Dominic Raab MP still refusing to support referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or to join the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice.

UNISON has been supporting the International Trade Union Strike fund and our partner – Burma Campaign UK – and a number of branches have generously stepped up to support the trade union struggle in Myanmar.

Every action counts. Here is how you can support the union movement and pro-democracy struggle in Myanmar:

  • if it has not yet done so, ask your branch to donate money to the International Trade Union Strike Fund – full details here;
  • send solidarity messages to the striking workers in Myanmar, which will be translated into Burmese and shared, to trimita.chakma@world-psi.org with the subject line ‘Solidarity message for Myanmar Global Day of Action;
  • sign Burma Campaign UK’s petition to call on Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb to Kick the Burmese military attaché out of the UK.