Political transformation is happening fast in Burma, but social and cultural change are just beginning—putting the country at a key tipping point for how it ultimately will be structured, says Pyi Thit Nyunt Wai, general secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB).
“We’re starting at ground zero. The country is like dough that’s being kneaded. We must decide what shape it has to be,” he says.
The AFL-CIO welcomes the Burmese government’s decision to remove some 2,000 people from a blacklist of more than 6,000 banned from entering the country. Among those affected by this decision is Maung Maung, the general secretary of the ITUC-affiliated Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB). After decades in exile, Maung Maung’s return represents an important step in Burma’s history and provides hope to millions of unorganized workers.
From the Arab uprisings to the international recognition of the rights of domestic workers, 2011 was a turning point for millions of workers around the globe. The AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, whose mission is to support workers in building independent trade unions around the world, partnered with workers and their unions as they organized for better working conditions, greater social protections, more fair labor laws and increased democracy and equity in their countries.
In its just-released 2011 Annual Report, the Solidarity Center shows how its staff in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas partnered with workers and their unions organizing for better working conditions and for the fundamental rights denied to them.
The U.S. government’s decision to ease restrictions on U.S. investments in Burma is “premature and poorly thought through,” says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Lifting investment sanctions on a nation where forced labor and other human rights violations continue may, says Trumka:
undermine progress toward political reforms in Burma, rather than encourage movement toward democracy.
Despite some positive signs of change in Burma, forced labor is still widely practiced, trade unions are illegal and hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail. The AFL-CIO agrees with the ITUC that the time is not ripe for a major revision of sanctions, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a
to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton solidifying this position.
Almost 22 years ago, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide in a free and fair election in Burma—but the military dictatorship refused to let the NLD take power. Instead, the ruling junta crushed the organization and imprisoned its members and activists, including its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
U Maung Maung, general secretary of the Federal Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB), visited the AFL-CIO last week to give some perspective on the draft Labor Organizations Law the Burmese government has introduced. The International Labor Organization (ILO) will decide in November whether to send a Commission of Inquiry to the country, a move Burma would like to avoid.
Although the law is a step in the right direction, U Maung Maung pointed out several holes in its reach, foundation and application and says it lacks adequate procedures for protecting collective bargaining or freedom of association. The announcement of changes in the labor law was accompanied by the release of 15 activists in October, all of whom were held on charges of “affecting the morality or conduct of the public or a group of people in a way that would undermine the security of the Union or the restoration of law and order.” However, 22 activists are still being held for this same reason, with sentences reaching up to 28 years.