Seminar: Bringing Workers into View: The State, Labour and Industrial Conflict in Myanmar
Michael Gillan, The University of Western Australia, Australia and Htwe Htwe Thein, Curtin University, Australia.
The presentation will examine the emergence of industrial conflict (strikes, various forms of worker protests) in Myanmar (Burma), with special reference to industrial clusters/special economic zones in the urban periphery of Yangon and Mandalay. In recent years, Myanmar has shifted towards quasi-democratic governance and this has led to significant change in both external relations (i.e. the suspension of most international trade sanction measures) and internal institutional development.
The paper will explain that although worker initiated protest and strike actions in various industries preceded democratic reforms, these changes have enabled more prevalent and open expressions of dissent. Indeed, growing incidences of conflict, alongside the reformation of institutions and governance, mean that the labour ‘problem’ has for the first time in contemporary Myanmar come into view as an important area for intervention and management by the State. Geopolitics and international organisations have also influenced institutional formation and reformation and the dynamics of industrial conflict in Myanmar. Arguably, however, the development of mediating labour institutions (law, dispute resolution agencies, trade unions, employer associations) has lagged behind the expression and management of conflict, leading to ambiguity as to the capacity and role of the state and workers’ conceptions of forms of collective association, citizenship and dissent. The politics of labour regulation and industrial conflict are also likely to be more evident in the context of the 2015 national election - although as yet trade unions and labour civil society organisations have very weak political power and representation.