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Date: Mon, 16 Oct 1995 05:23:42 GMT
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** Written 9:25 PM Oct 11, 1995 by glas:radiolabour in **
From: (Labour Chronicle Russian Radio Show)

"Burma needs independent trade unions" - Aung San Suu Kui

Foreign investment should be "in the right way at the right time," Burmese democracy leader says

Labour Chronicle Russian Radio Show, 11 October, 1995

"We do need international attention focussed on what is happening to workers in Burma," the Burmese democracy leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi told an international trade union delegation in the country's capital, Yangon (Rangoon), in October. Burmese workers have "no rights at all," she said. "Certainly, they have no independent trade unions."

Released from house arrest by the Burmese military dictatorship this summer, Aung San Suu Kyi was obviously speaking under some constraint during the videotaped interview. The full tape was screened today 10 October 1995 at a conference being held in Manila, Philippines, by the international trade union movement in support of trade unionism and democratisation in Burma.

She was unable to attend the Manila conference in person, due to the strong probability that she would have been refused readmission to Burma.

Burma is in the grip of one of the world's most brutal military regimes, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). An elaborate police state also oversees the systematic use of forced labour (in fact, part-time slavery) on a wide range of projects. There are presistent reports that slaves are being used for the preliminary work on joint ventures with multinationals, notably the energy sector, which is the country's biggest currency earner.

The international union conference in Manila will examine ways of assisting those working for independent trade unionism and political democracy inside Burma.

"As part of the process of democratisation," Aung San Suu Kyi said in the interview, "we need an increasing number of such organsations as independent trade unions, not only to help democracy but to help the workers themselves." This in turn would ssist the Burmese economy, because "labour is the backbone of any economy. Our greatest resource, our greatest asset, is our people. We need organisations to protect the rights of our people."

She emphasised that she was not against foreign investment as such. "In time, we shall need investment, and we hope we shall have a lot of very good, productive investment in Burma. But we do not want to encourage any form of investment that goes a ainst the process of democratisation. So all we are saying is that investments should be made in the right way at the right time. To go into it too early will not only hurt the process of democratisation, it could also go against sustained economic growth. Which means that, in the long run, it will be the businessmen themselves who will be hurt investing at the wrong time."

Burmese Prime Minister in exile Dr. Sein Win expressed himself very clearly on this issue. He told the Manila conference that the government in exile (democratically elected in the 1990 elections annulled by the military) wants multinationals to wit draw from Burma. He particularly criticised the role of energy multinationals Total and Unocal in building a controversial gas pipeline across Burma.

A further keynote speaker was former President of the Philippines Corazon Aquino, who drew important practical lessons from her country's experience of overthrowing the Marcos dictatorship.

Maung Maung, Secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions, Burma (FTUB), told the conference that his Federation was engaged in training and organising work in some regions of Burma, and had been able to establish a number of small trade unions in the country's border areas.

A written statement provided to the Manila conference by the exiled National Coalition Government of the Unions of Burma contain the pledge that a new Burmese democratic government would "move immediately to ratifiy and enforce" key Convention of the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) concerning freedom of association, collective bargaining, the abolition of forced labour, protection of workers representatives and a minimum working age.

Greeting the Manila conference delegates via the video interview, Aung San Suu Kyi stated: "I do believe that democracy will prevail, because this is what people want. I think that one day all the Burmese who have gone abroad will be back here working for the mutual benefit. I would like to thank all the international organisations which have done what they can to help us achieve what to us is not just a question of political rights, but a question of survival and social development."

A recent UN resolution on the need for the restoration of basic rights in Burma was "an important step," she said, "but this resolution must be implemented. It would help a great deal if the ILO (the UN's International Labour Organisation), in conjunction with other international bodies, would try to bring about the implementation of this resolution."