By BOB TWEEDY
Myanmar’s military led a coup on Monday, Feb. 1, alleging fraud in the November 2020 elections. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other top government officials of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested.
As the new parliament was preparing to ratify the results of the elections, the military failed to legitimize the claims of fraud in the Supreme Court. The threat of military action became more likely. Working people woke up Monday to military blockades on major roads, flights canceled, phone lines down, internet blackouts, and limited television channels controlled by the military.
A union organizer in Myanmar, whom we cannot name for security reasons, told Socialist Resurgence, “Today is a devastating day for my sisters and brothers in the Myanmar labor movement. Hard to convey the sadness of years of struggle and enormous promise being wiped away so brazenly and suddenly. I’ve never felt such a political sadness; it’s not the loss of a union battle, or the victory of a less-preferable capitalist politician, but an unfathomably large step backwards in the history of a country I’ve come to love. It brings tears to my eyes, and now the struggle returns back to the fight for basic bourgeois democracy, but, as always, the struggle continues as shall we.”
The coup, for now, has returned the country to military dictatorship following a brief period of so-called “democracy” that began with Suu Kyi’s election in 2015 following a 15-year period under house arrest. The country’s first free election in 25 years took place in 2015, and the NLD won in a landslide.
Despite having popular support, Nobel Prize winner Suu Kyi and the NLD have been heavily criticized for how they handled the oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority. Suu Kyi dismissed allegations of genocide as “misinformation” when hundreds of thousands were being driven from their homes in the Northern Rakhine state. The UN estimates at least 10,000 were killed in the process.
The military with the aid of Buddhist fascist-like gangs drove forward the ethnic cleansing by torching hundreds of homes and brutalizing women and children forcing them into overcrowded and unsanitary camps. Army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who is now running the country, was sanctioned over human rights violations for his leadership role in the ethnic cleansing.
The government also repressed a surge of labor organizing over the past five years. In particular, garment workers have waged a massive organizing drive that has been repressed by both the bosses and the government. In May 2020, six labor leaders were arrested for leading a strike that violated COVID regulations in a factory in Yangon’s Dagon Seikkan Township.
In jade mining sites such as Hpakan, young children are sent to gather jade while facing brutal conditions, including mudslides. An estimated 1.13 million five to 17 year olds are trapped in child labor in Myanmar. This means one in every 11 children is deprived of their childhood, health, and education.
In many ways, Aun Suu Kyi and the NLD acted as a liberal cover for the continued atrocities of the military and capitalist class in Myanmar. The complex history of Myanmar is also steeped in British colonial rule, the fight for independence, and the misleadership of the Stalinist Burmese Socialist Programme Party that would morph into a military junta. For decades the IMF and World Bank put pressure on the country to open up to neo-liberal austerity and foreign investment.
Foreign capitalists like Toyota and Mitsubishi who have invested heavily in production in Myanmar in recent years have been assured that events would not affect their output and profit. In fact, the coup will likely disrupt organizing efforts of brave trade unionists who saw an opening after the liberalization of the country with the election of Suu Kyi. Workers’ organizations like the Federation of Myanmar General Workers are demanding the reinstatement of Suu Kyi.
The federation stated, “We as workers completely trust and support the convening of the new Parliament comprised of members of the Parliament elected by the will of the people nationwide.” The statement continued, “… strongly condemn this coup which threatens to disrupt Myanmar’s democratic transition.” It concludes by demanding “the immediate release of the State Counselor, the cabinet members, and individuals who are implementing democracy.”
Illustration by General Strike Graphics