Burma: On the way to a cautious democracy?
On 8 November the people of Burma (Myanmar) expressed their democratic right and voted in favour of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. This victory will give Burma its first democratically elected government in decades after nearly 50 years under military rule.
The TUC hopes that this new chapter for the people of Burma will bring fresh optimism to fruition, where the rights of working people will be respected and where our sister trade union national centre the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), formerly the Federation of Trade Unions in Burma (FTUB) its affiliates and the many trade unions outside the CTUM, will be able to operate freely without interference from the state.
This political turning point in Burma’s history could set the tone for the new administration to agree to the international campaign to see the ratification and implementation of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Forced Labour Protocol in 50 countries to eradicate modern day slavery in Burma by 2018.
The results of the elections could in the long run signal an end to the imprisonment of trade union activists incarcerated for campaigning or supporting the fight for living wages, basic rights at work and forming trade unions.
Obviously it is still early days and the election does not guarantee that Aung San Suu Kyi the leader of the winning National League for Democracy party will actually be the president herself due to existing laws enshrined by the previous military dictatorship. Burma Campaign UK states that “Regardless of who wins the election, the military has control and/or influence over every level of government and will still have ultimate control over the country”. However the preceding government cannot ignore the fact that Burmese citizens want change and the results of this election could very well initiate that process further.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said:
“The people have spoken loud and clear, with an overwhelming result for the NLD. The military must respect this result and allow the NLD to govern without interference…Despite the fact that the military was guaranteed substantial representation in the parliament, and serious concerns over significant numbers of people being denied the right to vote, the result for the NLD is overwhelming and will enable the country to set out in a new direction and complete the transition to full democracy. After so many decades of struggle, with the trade unions playing a leading role in the campaign for democracy and human rights, Myanmar now seems to be on an irrevocable path away from dictatorship and into the community of nations.”
As well as supporting the trade unions of Burma, the TUC will also be working – for example through the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) – to make sure that global corporations whose supply chains include Burma will respect workers’ rights. Now that Burma is ‘open for business’ we need to make sure that business acts responsibly.