In Burma, the Solidarity Center supports union efforts to expose the government's criminal and systematic worker rights violations, promote and protect migrant worker rights, and sow the seeds of democracy.
|Burmese villagers seek fresh water following Cyclone Nargis.
For decades, the Burmese military junta has violated worker rights and harshly repressed union activity. Dozens of union activists languish in jail. The Federation of Trade Unions of Burma, an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation, is treated as an illegal organization. The ruling military junta in Burma engaged in such egregious and widespread use of forced labor that the International Labor Organization, which sets worker rights standards worldwide, called it a crime under international law.
Neighboring Thailand’s economy depends on a constant influx of Burmese migrant labor. An estimated 2 million migrants work in Thailand. In the border town of Mae Sot, more than 100,000 migrants work in garment production and other light manufacturing, construction, fishing, domestic service, and agriculture. Even though migrant workers are officially covered by Thai laws and regulations, their rights are regularly violated. They receive extremely low wages—often lower than their Thai colleagues standing next to them on the production line. Employers intimidate and threaten them, and they are attacked and even killed for daring to speak out. They may be deported back to Burma to face criminal charges or a life of misery. They are also vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labor. And they have little or no redress through social services or the legal system.
In September 2007, the Burmese regime’s brutal repression of public demonstrations laid bare its cynical announcements of a “road map” toward democracy. Soldiers shot at monks marching peacefully, killing dozens and injuring hundreds more. Thousands of protesters were arrested, and more than 300 leaders were handed lengthy prison sentences—up to 20 years. Working with other civil society organizations, the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma provided active support. The FTUB also built union capacity in ethnic areas and generated information worldwide on economic conditions in Burma.
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed an estimated 130,000 people in the Irrawaddy Delta. With the military junta restricting international assistance, diverting emergency supplies to sell for a profit, and setting up only a few model refugee camps for propaganda purposes, grassroots civil society groups, including the FTUB, stepped in to provide relief. Drawing on established networks inside and outside Burma, the FTUB quickly distributed more than $250,000 of emergency food, medicine, blankets, water purification tablets, and other vital supplies.
The FTUB’s primary mission is to build a democratic union movement within Burma while defending the rights of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand and India. Its immediate priority is to consolidate the cooperation that developed among pro-democracy groups during the relief efforts, at the same time expanding outreach efforts to include broad swaths of the population outraged at the inaction and incompetence of the junta. Recently, the FTUB held its first national Congress, where a key feature was the reaffirmation of the federation’s commitment to end military rule and introduce democracy in Burma. Union representatives from Southeast Asia, Asia-Pacific countries, Europe, and North America attended the historic Congress. It was marred, however, by the arrest of five FTUB members on their return home to Rangoon. After a concerted international campaign, the five were released on April 10, 2009.
Interview: Labor, Business Must Partner for Ethical Investment in Burma.
December 3, 2012—Political transformation is happening fast in Burma, but social and cultural change are just beginning—putting the country at a key tipping point for how it ultimately will be structured, says Pyi Thit Nyunt Wai, general secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB). “We’re starting at ground zero. The country is like dough that’s being kneaded. We must decide what shape it has to be,” he says.
Exiled Burmese Trade Union Leader Returns Home.
September 12, 2012—More than two decades after a violent military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators forced thousands of Burmese activists into prison or exile, Maung Maung has returned home. The general secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions - Burma (FTUB), Maung Maung spent the last 24 years nurturing the Burmese labor movement from his exile in Thailand.
Blog: In Burma, a Moment in History for Unions.
By Timothy Ryan. August 2, 2012—What a difference four months can make. When I first went to Burma in January of this year, some of the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB) labor activists I met with were too worried about security forces to meet me in public. The officers of the Agriculture and Farmers Federation of Myanmar (AFFM), for example, had attempted to register with the government under the new Labor Organization Law but had been rebuffed. They met with me in my hotel room.
Burmese Migrant Workers Double Their Wages after Strike.
May 23, 2012—As workers around the world celebrated International Labor Day at the beginning of May, more than 500 migrant workers on the Thai-Burmese border took collective action to demand that their employer improve wages and working conditions in a garment factory where they were earning less than 25 cents per hour for an 11-hour shift, according to reports. As a result of their two-day strike, the workers succeeded in doubling their wages and winning important gains in workplace conditions.
Democracy Activist Aung San Suu Kyi Meets with Burmese Migrant Workers and Solidarity Center Partner Organizations in Thailand.
June 1, 2012—In her first visit outside her home country since 1988, Burmese democracy activist and member of parliament Aung San Suu Kyi visited migrant worker communities in Samut Sakhon Province, where 300,000 of Thailand’s estimated 2.5 million Burmese migrant workers live and work.
Burmese Trade Unions Fail to Find a “Safe Place” to Organize.
February 10, 2012—Workers in Burma, also known as Myanmar, are well under way to building independent trade unions in multiple sectors. In Yangon (Rangoon), the capital, the Solidarity Center’s Tim Ryan spoke with union organizers about forming independent unions and the current government’s stated commitment to democratic reform.
After Two Decades of Darkness, a Daybreak in Burma?
February 3, 2012—Almost 22 years ago, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide in a free and fair election in Burma—but the military dictatorship refused to let the NLD take power. Instead, the ruling junta crushed the organization and imprisoned its members and activists, including its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The Solidarity Center's Timothy Ryan spoke recently with Suu Kyi about the future of a democratic labor movement in Burma.
Burma: Political Prisoners Released.
January 16, 2011—The release of key political prisoners on January 13, 2012, is a crucial development in promoting respect for human rights in Burma, but all remaining political prisoners should be freed immediately and unconditionally, Human Rights Watch said.
Can Unions Open Burma?
November 4, 2011—Progressive Policy Institute | Solidarity Center rule of law expert Earl Brown discusses whether Burma's new labor law, which for the first time in memory appears to permit independent unions to register and function legally, will bear real results for workers.
Rights Groups Call for Investigation, Improved Safety after 16 Burmese Migrant Workers Die in Truck Crash.
April 13, 2011—Rights groups are calling on the Thai government to rethink worker safety, conduct investigations, and provide remedies in the wake of a collision that killed 16 Burmese migrants and injured more than 50. At 7 a.m. on April 4, 2011, a 24-seat bus carrying more than 70 migrants from Burma was hit by a 10-wheeler truck on a major highway in Samut Sakorn Province in Central Thailand.
Letter from Federation of Trade Unions - Burma (FTUB) General Secretary Maung Maung to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in support of Wisconsin public employee union members, February 28, 2011.
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Burmese Unions Wecome Release of Aung San Suu Kyi (FTUB press release).
The Federation of Trade Unions of Burma celebrates with joy and emotion, the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the heroine and leader of the people and workers of Burma, and expresses its deep emotion and joy," says FTUB General Secretary Maung Maung. The FTUB, in spite of the fact that its activity is strongly prohibited and repressed by the military junta, organizes tens of thousands of workers in all sectors and workplaces of the country.
AFL-CIO Demands Release of Burma Activist Suu Kyi.
The AFL-CIO is demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Burmese democracy activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma’s military dictators sentenced her to 18 months of house arrest after her conviction on trumped-up charges. Cross-post from AFL-CIO Now Blog
Global Labor Movement Condemns Aung San Suu Kyi "Sham Trial."
The International Trade Union Confederation and the AFL-CIO have condemned the ongoing trial of Nobel winner Aung San Suu Kyi, detained only days before completing six consecutive years of house arrest in Burma.
Burmese Union Members Freed
. The Federation of Trade Unions of Burma reports that after a concerted international campaign, five FTUB members and their families who had been arrested by the Burmese military junta were released on April 10, 2009.
Solidarity Center Condemns Arrests of Burmese Union Members. The Solidarity Center joined the global labor movement in condemning the April 1, 2009, arrests of five members of the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) by the Burmese military junta on their return home from border areas, where the first national FTUB Congress was held.
Thousands of Burmese Dead in Cyclone. More than 75,000 people are reported dead and more than 55,000 are missing in a tropical cyclone that struck Burma over the weekend.
Legal Clinic for Burmese Migrant Workers. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers in Thai factories along the Thailand-Burma border are underpaid, overworked, attacked, and murdered. The Solidarity Center and the Thai bar association have opened a legal clinic to help protect these workers’ rights.
Hope for Migrant Workers in Gulf States. The Solidarity Center is part of an effort that brings together union, employer, and government representatives to improve working conditions for migrants, including Burmese workers, in the Gulf States.