Friday, December 28, 2012

TOP 10 Events of 2012—No 4

Friday, 28 December 2012 13:28 Mizzima News

Mizzima’s sister publication, M-ZINE+, has selected what its editors have decided are the 10 biggest events or issues in Burma over the past 12 months.

We began the countdown on December 22 at No. 10, and will recall one issue each day until we finish on December 31 with the most momentous event of the year.

No rest for the little elves at, we will be working all the way through Xmas and New Year, bringing you the latest and most accurate news from Burma.

4. Organized labor shows its teeth

Hi Mo High Art wig factory workers, pictured on strike in May. (Photo: Mizzima)

Unions in poor developing countries do not exactly resemble their large, structured, well-off and very politically focused counterparts in First World economies. Whereas the latter might aim to maintain and expand a middle-class lifestyle for their members, the former, when permitted, will often expand its energies on getting at least a survival wage for its members and something done about the often-deleterious working hours and conditions.

Burma, where for years union activity was suppressed and strikes were unheard of, now sees repeated bouts of labor activism. The country’s new labor law, signed by the president in March, expressly allows for collective bargaining and even strike activity under certain conditions. This has breathed new life into what should be part of a functioning civil society.

As one would expect, given Burma’s demographics and stage of economic development, the labor unions and strike activity are largely an urban phenomenon and limited somewhat to companies employing a large workforce. While these represent the initial stirring of a revivified labor activism, there are good reasons for wanting things to not get out of hand.

Potential investors, say in textiles, who are thinking of setting up shop in the country might think again and look for locations where unions are weak or non-existent.

But that should not be an excuse for weakening labor rights, far from it. What is needed, as is needed worldwide, is a proper balance between governments that set regulatory frameworks, entrepreneurs who seek out economic opportunities and build their businesses, and workers who provide the muscle for those enterprises.

Workers should not be made to feel they are simply beasts of burden, without leverage and alienated from a system that pays them as little as possible in terms of wages. For their part, unions need to help foster their firms’ overall health. After all, the firms are the geese that should lay golden eggs.

Some day in the near future, economists hope, Myanmar will have a much larger class of salaried individuals fueling economic growth with their purchases. For that to happen, those salaries will have to keep tandem with growth. Good wages and good working conditions are not simply “there for the taking” in Burma—hence the need for effective unions that can think ahead.
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M-ZINE+ is a business weekly available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at

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