A strike wave of workers in the garment factories of Rangoon is beginning to shake the foundations of the military dictatorship of Burma (1). There was already strike action at the end of last year. In recent weeks there have been reports of several strikes. Yesterday, several thusand workes went on strike.
The Irrawaddy writes: “In the latest escalation of labor tension in Burma, around 4,000 factory workers at an industrial estate on the outskirts of Rangoon staged a sit-in on Saturday to dmand betterpay, according to sources in the area.” There were strikes in two factories.
Wages – stagnant, with inflation eating them away – are at the center of the discontent. With 30 – 50 dollar, they are even lower than in Cambodia and Vietnam, where wages for comarable work are 150 dallar, according to an official of the Chamber of Commerce in Burma. These are monthly wages.
These strikes – and earlier ones, as reported in Spero News – are important. They threaten the economic base – export industries with low-wage labour – of the military regime. The authorities react with reprssion: they usually send hundreds of police and soldiers. But they don’t simply smash the strikes. Negotiations usually take part, some concessions are made. It looks as if the rebellious workers are opening a space for further struggle. And does not look as if the regime is that powerful and that confident.
All this is happening while the regime has promised elections, while still continuing to hold opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in house arrest. Western support – hypocritical, in essence -has not helped the poor masses of Burma much in their struggle against the military junta. Workers rebelling angainst their atrocious wages and working conditions can open an road to freedom that may look hard. But it is a road much more trustworthy than all U.N. sanctions and all Western politicians’ promises combined.
I found the Irrawaddy article through Labourstart.org. The Spero News article is linked in an valuable report on workers’ struggles in Asia on Libcom.org. I wrote two articles on workers’ actions in Burma on my Dutch-language weblog, Rooieravotr, on Februari 11, and on Februari 17. While both these last articles are in Dutch, it is based on information found through English-language links.
(1) Yes, I know, the official name of that country is Myanmar. However, that is the name given by the miitary dictatorship, whose language I refuse to speak. . I stick to ‘Burma’ in this article.