On the Picket Line

Myanmar garment workers strike against pay, benefit cuts

By Seth Galinsky
and James Khyne
November 29, 2021

Some 350 workers at the Gasan Apparel factory in Yangon went on strike Oct. 14 demanding that pay cuts and other reductions in their benefits be reversed. The Militant first heard about the strike from Khaing Zar Aung, president of the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar, who is currently in Germany.

One worker at the plant, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of retaliation, told the Militant from Yangon Nov. 13 that bosses at the factory cut the daily pay “from 5,100 kyat [$2.87] to 4,800 ” and also took away “other allowances such as food and transportation.”

In an attempt to intimidate the workers, “police and soldiers arrived and took pictures of their identification cards,” the worker said. “But as of now no workers have been arrested.”

“We are striking inside the factory,” the worker added, despite the bosses’ attempts to restart production using temporary workers. “If the company restores the wage cuts the strike will end.” Workers first joined the union four years ago.

The strike is taking place despite ongoing repression by the military junta, which seized power Feb. 1. Military forces have killed more than 1,200 people, carried out bloody assaults against anti-coup protests and imprisoned over 7,200 since then.

Several union leaders have been jailed, including Thwin Aung, chair of the union at Gasan, who was arrested in September and sentenced to three years in prison a few weeks ago.

Before the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic there were some 600,000 garment workers in Myanmar. Less than 1% of the workers belonged to a union. Bosses have deepened their attacks on workers’ wages and working conditions.