For the past 10 years, the AFL-CIO and the global labor movement have stood with Myanmar unions in their front-line struggle to support the country’s transition to democracy after decades of military dictatorships. Under the military’s control, large parts of the country’s economy, and natural resource extraction in particular, were fostered by state-sponsored violence and forced labor and the denial of fundamental worker and human rights. Myanmar was largely excluded from engaging with multilateral institutions and joining in Western trade and investment during these years.
In 2010, a burgeoning democracy began to take shape and gradually brought multilateral cooperation, investment and work to the country. While the military retained political and economic power, there were elections, as well as the awakening of civil society organizations and a growing labor movement. The International Labor Organization (ILO) dedicated considerable time and resources in the country to help build an industrial relations system and finally put an end to forced labor.
On Feb. 1, 2021, that progress was reversed in a military coup that seeks to deny the clear results of the November 2020 election in which National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates for Parliament were elected with overwhelming support. The military’s claim that the November election was compromised by widespread fraud is without merit.
The AFL-CIO joins the global labor movement in vehemently condemning the military coup and calls for the immediate restoration of democracy, including the installation of Parliament that was elected in November. We stand with the hundreds of thousands of workers, unions, students, and civil society and democracy activists that have come together in the civil disobedience movement since Feb. 6 to shut down workplaces and take to the street in peacefully demanding democracy. America’s labor movement stands in solidarity with the labor movement of Myanmar, recognizing that the struggle for justice and improved living standards is inextricably linked to this fight for democracy.
We call upon the U.S. government to stand with the people of Myanmar and insist that the continuation of normal diplomatic and economic relations be contingent upon the immediate reinstallation of the rightfully elected government and elected Parliament.
We call on international companies operating in Myanmar to demand the immediate reinstatement of democracy and provide support to workers in places where operations are curtailed, and to support and protect workers protesting the coup.
We call for the immediate release and dropping of all charges against all political prisoners, now numbering over 150, including Aung San Suu Kyi, other leaders allied with the NLD and civil society activists.
In addition, we join the Myanmar labor movement and the International Trade Union Confederation in supporting the struggle for democracy and call on governments and the global community to meet the following demands:
- Vacate Myanmar’s seat at the United Nations (U.N.);
- Produce an urgent resolution from the U.N. Security Council denouncing the coup and calling for the immediate restoration of democratic rule;
- Produce a statement from the U.N. Human Rights Council reinforcing the Security Council resolution;
- Produce a Governing Body resolution of the ILO, given its important role in the country’s transition to democracy, calling on the restoration of democracy and the protection of fundamental rights;
- Cease immediately all military cooperation with Myanmar;
- Impose sanctions initially targeted at the military leaders, including immediate financial sanctions that focus on their business interests and suspend Myanmar’s preferential trade arrangements;
- Deploy all government investigative capacities to trace supply chains of military-run and -affiliated companies to ensure complete application of these sanctions;
- Expose and hold accountable lobbying firms employed by Myanmar’s military by the governments where they operate;
- Support all refugees persecuted by Myanmar’s military;
- Protect diplomatic staff in foreign countries; and
- Execute action by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to fulfill the democracy and human rights commitments in its charter.