Two Women Union Leaders Arrested in Myanmar; Total Now 20+

Two Women Union Leaders Arrested in Myanmar; Total Now 20+

Two union leaders in Myanmar recently have been arrested for their participation in pro-democracy rallies, and unions worldwide are calling for governments to halt trade and other financial support that provide backing to the country’s military government. The total number of union leaders arrested since the February 1 military coup is at least 20, according to union leaders. (Support workers under attack in Myanmar.)

More than 750 people, including more than dozen union members, have been killed and at least 3,400 people arrested. Union members killed include Chan Myae Kyaw, a union activist and truck driver at a copper mine, who was shot dead while protecting other protestors during a peaceful rally.

Ma Myo Aye, leader of the Solidarity Trade Union Movement (STUM), was arrested at the union’s office in Yangon in recent days and taken to prison by the military. Union leaders say she is charged for allegedly violating Section 505a of the Penal Code, which makes it a crime to cause or intend to cause disobedience or disloyalty to members of the government. Her first court hearing is scheduled for April 29.

She has been transferred to Insein prison in Yangon, which union leaders say is notorious for its torture of prisoners. Myanmar media is reporting horrific sexual assault and other forms of torture against women imprisoned by the military.

Mi Aung, the finance officer of the Hmawbe Brick Factory Union, an affiliate of the Building and Wood Workers Federation of Myanmar (BWFM), was arrested by the army in Hmawbe, where she was visiting her family. Her whereabouts are unknown. The union is vowing to carry on the struggle for democratic freedoms.

The two leaders are among tens of thousands of union members who have taken a leading role in the nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) to peacefully protest for an end to the military coup. Union offices have been ransacked and the military has conducted door-to-door searches for union activists, most of whom have now gone into hiding outside Yangon. Arrest warrants have been issued for at least 75 union leaders.

Military Harassing Garment Workers, Union Activists Fired

Garment workers–women in particular–have taken a leading role in the protests, with the country’s 450,000 garment workers especially active in organizing civil disobedience actions and shutting down factories.

In Hlaing Thar Yar, an industrial zone outside Yangon, factories are re-opening despite the dangers to workers. The Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) says the military is arbitrarily stopping workers on the streets, demanding they give their phones to soldiers or face arrest. If they do not have phones, the military requires them to pay a fine. During CDM rallies, the military has killed more than 100 workers in the area, burning some alive, and factories also have been burned, according to the federation.

Yet if workers do not return to their jobs, IWFM says factory management is using their absence to lay off union representatives. Because the military regime cut phone lines and internet access, workers are unable to tell their employers they cannot return to work, and so lose their severance pay.

Unions Worldwide Demand Immediate Action

IWFM and the Federation of General Workers-Myanmar are asking multinational fashion brands to ensure workers can take unpaid leave if they request it because of the lack of safety, and to enable participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.

Unions around the world are pushing their governments to take immediate action by isolating the military junta and impose sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which provides the military with crucial financing.

The global union movement also is urging international financial institutions to recall all projects and loans to the military government, and initiate dialogue with the National Unity Government, which includes leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was among elected officials the military arrested.

A coalition of global union federations issued a statement conditionally supporting the Five Point Consensus statement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in which the organization and Myanmar’s junta agreed to a plan to end violence and hold a constructive dialogue among all parties.

While ASEAN’s plan is a good, partial step forward, the union federations say, it omits key concerns.

“A dialogue process will be meaningless if political leaders remain imprisoned and if trade unionists, activists and even health workers who assist the injured, remain at risk of arrest, torture and imprisonment,” the union federations say. “Trade unionists have been arrested, tortured and harassed in door-to-door searches, while others are hiding in fear. The military has imposed widespread restrictions on workers’ rights and curtailed freedoms of speech and assembly, blocked social media and declared 16 labor-related organizations illegal.”

Education International is urging the United Nations Security Council to take stronger action, including targeting military leaders, and asks national governments to use all means available to sanction the military, including through economic pressure.

IndustriALL global union is calling on companies to end commercial ties with the military and urging its affiliates to pressure governments to impose economic sanctions

In New Zealand, the Council of Trade Unions is pushing its government to not ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement because it includes trade with Myanmar. The Swedish union of forestry, wood and graphical workers called on the country’s Forest Stewardship Council to stop providing certifications to raw materials exported by Myanmar’s military junta.

Colombia Workers Set for National Strike April 28

Colombia Workers Set for National Strike April 28

Workers and their unions in Colombia will hold a national strike April 28 to protest a tax hike proposed by President Iván Duque that would increase costs for workers already struggling from lost jobs and income from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union leaders say the tax plan is misleadingly labeled a “Sustainable Solidarity Law” and instead would raise taxes on fuel and electricity and greatly expand the number of people required to pay additional taxes. The plan also would increase taxes on produce, harming both farmers and consumers.

It is a “tax reform that disguises itself as solidarity, ” says Unitary Workers Center (CUT) President Francisco Maltés.

Unions across Colombia have joined in solidarity to hold the 24-hour strike as part of a Unified National Command (Comando Nacional Unitario) comprised of the CUT; the General Confederation of Workers (CGT); the Workers Confederation of Colombia (CTC) the Education Workers Federation (FECODE); and the Confederations of Pensioned workers (CPC and CDP).

Tax Big Business, Not Working Families

In an 11-point set of demands, unions say the government should establish tax reform based on progressive taxation so those who earn more pay more. Unions also say taxes should be lowered for small and medium businesses while increased for big business, including multinationals. Further, tax evasion should be effectively punished and taxes increased on large land

Colombian workers have been especially hard-hit during the pandemic. Unemployment is at a record 20 percent, with more than 5 million people losing their jobs.

Women in Colombia, as around the world, have been disproportionately affected. Between September 2019 and September 2020, for every man who lost his job, 2.2 women did so, nationally. In smaller cities, for every eight women who lost their jobs, one man lost his job. Many women work in the informal sector, where nearly half of Colombians make their living as market vendors and domestic workers, who are paid low wages and are not covered job protections like health care.

The pandemic compounded workers’ struggles to make a living and support their families.  In 2019, more than 35 percent of Colombians lived in poverty, and the top 10 percent of the country’s earners received 40 percent of the country’s income, 10 times what the bottom 20 percent earned.

Beginning in November 2019, tens of thousands of workers have taken to the streets to protest the Duque government’s repeated attempts to hike prices and reward corporations with tax cuts.

Podcast: How Unions Meet COVID-19 Challenges—and Beyond

Podcast: How Unions Meet COVID-19 Challenges—and Beyond

When the Nigerian government sought to raise taxes on basic goods and decrease subsidies on key items like fuel as millions of workers struggled without jobs or wages during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 4 million members of the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) successfully stood up against these assaults. NLC President Ayuba Wabba says the union first tried negotiating with the government. When that effort did not work, workers were set to strike, he said on the latest episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast.

“Many Nigerians are in very difficult situations right now because of the challenge of COVID-19. Most of their income have been disrupted and their survival is so difficult. So that is why we have to respond, to actually draw the attention of government. And such an approach is very, very necessary. We thought that governance should be about the interest of justice,” Wabba told podcast host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.

A New Social Contract

In a wide-ranging conversation, Wabba, who is president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), describes efforts at the global level to build a post-COVID world where all workers are covered by social protections such as paid sick leave, access to protective safety equipment, health care and good wages.

“COVID-19 has exposed the inadequacies in the entire social protection system,” he says. “We are also trying to make sure that COVID-19 is one of the diseases that is also covered by occupational health and safety for all workers, including casual workers, including migrant workers, including workers working in the precarious sector because this is very important. If not, the inequality gap between the rich and the poor will continue to be widened.”

As a global union leader, Wabba is at the forefront of the international campaign to ensure the future of work ensures good jobs as well as green jobs to address the ongoing challenges of climate change. “You don’t need to contaminate the environment for you to be able to retain jobs. Jobs can be produced using greener forms of energy.”

Download Season One Episodes

The Solidarity Center Podcast, “Billions of Us, One Just Future,” highlights conversations with workers (and other smart people) worldwide shaping the workplace for the better.

Check out the full first season of The Solidarity Center Podcast and stay tuned for season two this fall!

This podcast was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Cooperative Agreement No.AID-OAA-L-16-00001 and the opinions expressed herein are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID/USG.

New Alliance Set to Bolster Palestinian Worker Rights

New Alliance Set to Bolster Palestinian Worker Rights

Workers in Palestine now have even more support for their efforts to achieve rights and respect at work: The National Alliance for Social Justice in Palestine, launched in Ramallah in recent days, seeks to craft Palestinian labor law in line with international labor standards and expand equitable legislation for all Palestinians. Alliance leaders say such coordination is especially essential to advance social justice standards and worker protection during COVID-19 lockdowns.

The 41-member alliance, headed by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), includes the majority of professional unions, trade unions and Palestinian civil society institutions in the West Bank and Gaza. PGFTU spearheaded the coalition with support of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in March 2021.

Among the Code of Honor Principles:
  • Adopting the principles and standards of sustainable and alternative development to build a national economy and reject all forms of normalization
  • Adopting a participatory, holistic approach in implementing the Alliance’s plan and programs
  • Promoting and adopting mechanisms to advocate and campaign for policies and regulations on economic and social rights and amendments to the labor law in line with international labor standards
  • Believing in the coalition that will build labor law, policies and social protection systems
  • Believing in the necessity of unifying demands on issues of social justice, economic and social rights, and trade union demands for all member institutions of the coalition
Among the Alliance Founding Partners:
  • PGFTU (president)
  • General Union of Palestinian Workers
  • The General Federation of Independent Trade Unions
  • The General Union of Palestinian Women in West bank and Gaza Strip
  • Sharek Youth Forum
  • Wasel Foundation for Youth Development
  • Women and Media Development Association – TAM
  • Center of Psychosocial Counselling for Women
  • The Palestinian Foundation for Empowerment and Local Development – Reform
  • Center for Feminist Studies
  • Palestinian Broadcasting Union
  • Palestinian NGOs Network
  • Union of Palestinian University Professors and Employees

Solidarity Center programs in Palestine support the PGFTU in building coalitions with civil society organizations to combine efforts with the labor movement to advocate for national policy reform, campaign for labor rights and address the important issues for workers collectively.

Podcast: Domestic Workers: Leading, Growing, THRIVING

Podcast: Domestic Workers: Leading, Growing, THRIVING

Domestic workers are among the most invisible workers in the world—yet in Latin America, they are joining together to champion their rights at their workplace and in their communities, says Adriana Paz Ramirez on this week’s episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast.

Paz, Latin American regional coordinator for the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), says these mostly Black and Indigenous women are breaking decades of intergenerational oppression and trauma, and forging new paths through holistic leadership training, creating community-wide social movements and expanding their strength by connecting with each other.

Within six months of a recent leadership training, for example, 9,000 new members signed up with 26 organizations, Paz tells host Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director.

“I was so touched by a domestic worker leader who said that I have not been able to give my daughter an inheritance, like money or a house, but I’m giving her this movement. Because this is changing our lives, because this is changing our countries, because this is changing history,” she says.

“That is the significance of getting themselves into a union. If the women at the bottom of the bottom are racing up, all of us are raising up.”

Listen Anytime to The Solidarity Center Podcast

The Solidarity Center Podcast, “Billions of Us, One Just Future,” highlights conversations with workers (and other smart people) worldwide shaping the workplace for the better.

Be sure to catch last week’s episode in which Bader-Blau talks with Francia Blanco, a trans rights activist, domestic worker and union leader in Nicaragua who is working with her union to achieve rights, respect and dignity on the job for all LGBTQ+ workers.

Look for final episode this season on April 21, with International Trade Union Confederation President Ayuba Wabba. He explores the Nigerian labor movement’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and discusses the global labor movement’s plans to build back better for workers around the world

And check out recent episodes:

LGBTQ+ Domestic Workers Win Rights with Their Union
Making the Gig Economy Work for Workers
Winning Rights for Migrant Workers
Defending Democracy: Workers on the Frontline
Ending Gender-Based Violence at Work: The Campaign to Ratify ILO C190

This podcast was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Cooperative Agreement No.AID-OAA-L-16-00001 and the opinions expressed herein are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID/USG.

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