On February 22, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Myanmar as workers across the country walked out of their jobs. The people of Myanmar are continuing their struggle against the Myanmar military that has seized power in a coup. Hundreds of people have been arrested and at least two demonstrators were killed by gunfire from the Myanmar troops. The government has shut down internet service and phone lines. The strike, and the government’s response, have paralyzed the country.
The strike and movement against the coup have seen a mass outpouring of activity on the part of workers. Hospital workers, employees of the government in Myanmar, started a “Civil Disobedience Movement” Facebook page which received 170,000 followers within its first days. Telephone workers have resigned their jobs rather than follow government orders. Garbage workers have refused to pick up garbage. Sixty percent of the Ministry of Electricity’s employees have walked off their jobs.
Banks without tellers are closed. Factories without workers won’t run. Schools without staff and faculty don’t open. By withdrawing their labor, workers are showing who really makes society run.
The workers of Myanmar aren’t just going on strike, they’re exercising their own power. When the government threatened to shut down electricity in order to conduct night-time arrests, the electrical workers declared that “Our duty is to give electricity, not to cut.” Doctors and nurses have joined the movement. While they’ve gone on strike, they have also set up a “Democracy Clinic” hosting online medical consultations for free.
The military has responded to the strike and protest movement with ominous threats, promising more violent repression. This is not an idle threat. In 1988, during the last major strike movement against the dictatorship, the military killed thousands of people with live ammunition during demonstrations. The memory of what the military is capable is alive in people’s minds. But the alternative, to accept the military coup, is just as dangerous. As one protester put it “Under the military dictatorship, no one is safe, whether you take to the streets or sit at home, so we chose to voice our objection rather than staying silent.”