• Posted on: 31/03/2021
  • 2 minutes to read

The military coup in Myanmar has deeply shaken hopes for democracy but public servants and unions are fighting back.

Nā UnionAID executive officer Michael Naylor

Following the military coup in early February, hundreds of nurses and doctors from government hospitals took to the streets, to call for a return to democracy.

The protests gained momentum as staff from government ministries, banks, military owned enterprises, public schools, civil society organisations and student bodies joined in to support the Civil Disobedience Movement.

A nationwide strike on February 22 saw thousands, if not millions, of people on the streets.  

The scale of the movement shows how angry and desperate people are. Previously military rule denied them decent education, health care and labour rights. Now they fear their children will also be robbed of a better future.


It’s reported 30% of public service workers are on strike, along with an even higher percentage of government health workers. According to political activist Min Ko Naing, the public service workers strike will determine the outcome of the protests.

The protesters are courageous, as security forces respond with increasing violence and more people are being killed. Night-time house arrests of public service workers and other activists have become commonplace, accompanied by the noisy beating of pots and pans as neighbours try to warn them.


With support from the New Zealand union movement including the PSA, UnionAID has had a long relationship with Myanmar. We have supported trade unions with funding and run the Myanmar Young Leaders Programme to promote democracy and human rights. 

We are receiving reports from many of the 94 alumni of the programme, many of whom are taking up leadership roles in the protests. Several have gone into hiding out of fear they will be arrested.

Unions have been organising protests and supporting striking workers.  State railway workers literally lay on the tracks to stop the trains being commandeered by the military. Some of them are members of the railway union UnionAID helped established in 2012. Several now face arrest warrants.

Recently the Confederated Trade Unions of Myanmar thanked PSA staff and others who attended a solidarity rally at Parliament organised by UnionAID and the New Zealand Myanmar community.

“Thank you so much NZ for your support. It is do or die for us, there is no other option!”

As Working Life goes to print, it’s unclear who will win this battle between the people and the generals. You can support UnionAID’s work to assist unions in Myanmar and other countries at www.unionaid.org.nz/donate/

Main Photo Caption: Nationwide strike day on 22 February. Credit: STR