Bringing Workers into View: The State and the Emergence of Industrial Conflict in Myanmar

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: Booth 41
Oral Presentation
Michael GILLAN , Management and Organisations, The University of Western Australia, Australia
Htwe Htwe THEIN , Curtin Business School, Curtin University, Australia
Bringing Workers into View: The State and the Emergence of Industrial Conflict in Myanmar

Michael Gillan and Htwe Htwe Thein


This paper examines the emergence of open 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, the nation’s largest city. 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, the 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. 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 in the industry, leading to ambiguity as to the capacity and role of the state and workers’ conceptions of forms of collective association, citizenship and dissent.

Moreover, industry development and forms of labour regulation have emerged not only via shifting relations between the state, capital and labour at a national scale. Geopolitics and international institutional actors (ILO, Global Unions, INGOs), forms of supra-national regulation (for instance, the impact of international trade sanctions) multi-scalar production and economic networks (investor and supplier relations) have also played an important role in institutional formation and reformation and the dynamics of industrial conflict.