The Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF) is engaging in civil disobedience along with others to protest the military coup of Monday, 1 February. The MTF and other unions issued statements condemning the coup and called for the release of arrested political leaders.
President Dr Sai Khaing Myo Tun of the MTF issued a statement that condemned the “trampling of democracy” and the unconstitutional arrest of President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and other leaders. The MTF called for the release of all those detained and urged the military to recognize and implement the results of the November 2020 election.
Under an agreement reached before the 2015 election in Myanmar, the military, was guaranteed 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament. In addition, a military-led party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was created to contest the remaining seats. They were defeated in the 2015 election by the National League for Democracy (NLD) Party of Aung Syu Kyi, which won a Parliamentary majority.
The NLD won a landslide victory in the November 2020 elections. The seating of the newly elected Parliament on 1 February was pre-empted by the coup. The military claimed that there was widespread fraud in the election and established a military government that was to rule for a year. The election results were certified by an independent election commission. The election was also considered to have been free and fair by international election observers.
Even after the moves toward democracy, the military, called the Tatmadaw, remained powerful. Its officers, retired officers and cronies, control much of the economy. The details of much of their activity are hidden.
Education International General Secretary David Edwards stated,
“We support the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation and its efforts, with other trade unions and allies, to have the election results and the Constitution respected. We stand with the courageous leaders of the MTF in their fight for freedom and democracy. We call on the United Nations and national governments to intervene with General Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power, to free those arrested, accept the results of the Parliamentary elections, and allow the process of democratisation of Myanmar to continue. The people of Myanmar should never be forced to return to the isolation, fear and desperation of military rule.”
The international trade union movement has been involved for decades in the fight for human rights and democracy in Myanmar. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), one of the predecessor organisations of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), documented and exposed widespread forced labour in Burma, which led to an ILO Commission of Inquiry that issued its report in 1998. Based on that report, the ILO opened an office in the country to eliminate forced labour. The Global Unions’ Burma campaign organised by the ICFTU and the Global Union Federations (GUF) led to massive disinvestment by multinational companies in the country. National unions and confederations mobilised solidarity support and pressed their governments to act.
Burma became independent in 1948. From the beginning, the country has been plagued with ethnic violence, under both democratic and military rule. However, one of the worst periods of oppression has been against the Rohingya people since 2016. This military campaign has been described as ethnic cleansing, but the affected population is also a religious (Moslem) minority. Attacks forced a million Rohingya to flee, most of them to neighbouring Bangladesh. The UN found evidence of extrajudicial killings, summary executions, gang rapes, arson of villages, businesses and schools, and infanticide.
In November of 2019, The Gambia filed a genocide case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Myanmar based on the massive military mobilisation against the Rohingya. Nobel Prize winner Aung Syu Kyi appeared before the ICJ and defended military action.
United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, described the coup as a “serious blow to democratic reforms” and the UN Security Council is considering action. Strong calls for the reversal of the military takeover and for the restoration of democracy have come from many governments and the European Union. Some governments are examining the imposition of sanctions against Myanmar. The ITUC and Global Union Federations have called for strong condemnation by governments as have many national trade union organisations.