What is the Federation of General Workers Myanmar (FGWM)?
The FGWM unites factory labour unions from the private sector as well as some unions from the public sector. In September 2019 it was formed initially with the agreement of more than 20 trade union organisations from different industrial sectors. The six private sub-sectors represented were (1) garment sector, (2) sports equipment sector, (3) transformer manufacturing sector, (4) electric wire manufacturing sector, (5) sculpture production sector, (6) transportation sector. Among them the garment sector is the strongest one. FGWM is a Myanmar-based labour federation composed of around 35 000 members.
According to its statutes the FGWM has the following objectives:
(1) Standing as a federation focused on democracy, leadership by union members, union action and solidarity.
(2) Organising and supporting all workers regardless of race, gender, religion, and sector/industry in Myanmar to form unions and become union members.
(3) Having strong and sustainable unions within FGWM.
(4) Achieving living wages and a good social welfare insurance system as well as programs for improving the living conditions of workers.
(5) Making sure the workplaces are safe, free from oppression, free from discrimination, free from sexual harassment and violence.
(6) Defending and promoting the rights and interests of workers in Myanmar.
(7) Making sure the government includes workers’ voices in enacting labour laws and policies.
(8) Eliminating the exploitation of workers by capitalists.
(9) Making sure the workers possessing the labour power are viewed as an important and valuable class in society.
(10) Building solidarity with labour organisations on the national and international level.
FGWM is a self-governing federation organised and governed by the workers themselves.
When a union member of the federation is oppressed, the rest of the member unions must vigorously protect it, and oppression of one worker is considered oppression of all workers.
FGWM operations are based on the constitution written by members of basic labour unions which are members of FGWM. The secretaries of the federation are elected by member trade unions according to the constitution of the federation, and they are responsible for the activities according to their respective positions. In December 2020, 15 executives were elected. The second highest level, the central steering committee, is composed of 2 union secretaries selected by the basic factory unions, and under this committee, other working committees are organised and implement the policies and activities.
There are a total of 11 working committees. The committees formed in the federation are the committees organised by the workers themselves.
FGWM is a self-organised labour union federation, which is organised within the struggle of workers in their workplace. FGWM supports the defence of legal entitlements and rights of thousands of workers by solving labour disputes, by conducting strikes and by organising more labour unions. FGWM is the federation which holds strikes as a tool to fight back oppression of factory managements and owners. In 2019, during the Covid pandemic, FGWM demanded to close factories and made sure workers received the necessary medical support by forming the committee for occupational safety and health in workplaces. In 2020, FGWM led a march in Yangon with almost 7 000 workers, with more than 20 labour unions, demanding an increase in minimum wage.
In an example of successful struggle FGWM was able to support workers in six factories who had been dismissed illegally as part of attempts to disband factory unions, also refered to as union busting. The workers were re-instated and got compensations paid. In cases of negotiation between workers and bosses, FGWM ensured that workers received their rights and what they are entitled to.
FGWM was one of the first organisations to protest the military coup in Yangon together with the workers who did not accept the seizure. On February 5th, 2021, more than 12 000 workers in 10 member factories of FGWM carried out the red ribbon campaign against the military dictatorship.
In this context the four political demands of the federation are:
1. Abolition of military dictatorship.
2. Achieving federal democracy.
3. Repealing the 2008 constitution.
4. The release of all arrested labour leaders/activists immediately.
Since February 6th, 2021, FGWM led the first protests in Yangon and keeps standing together with workers against the military dictatorship in Myanmar. FGWM organised a union for civil servants who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) struggling for freedom. These unions are Union of Myanmar Railway Traffic Department (MRTU) and two sub-unions under it [Myanmar Railways Civil Engineering Department (MRCU) and Myanmar Railways Signal Engineering Department (MRSU)] as well as the Workers Union of Education (WUE) and Myanmar Agriculture Union (MAU).
At present the FGWM comprises of 40 member unions all together. Twenty of them are (garment) factory unions. FGWM did the collective bargaining on the shop floor level for workers’ rights which were violated under the military administration. FGWM prioritises the organisation of more unions in the industrial zones. The CDM member unions emphasise the protection and support of workers active in the CDM.
FGWM is a member of the Myanmar Labour Alliance which involves 19 federations and also works with other revolutionary forces.