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  Issue No 87 Official Organ of LaborNet 10 March 2001  

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International

Border Skirmishes


Alana Kerr travelled to Thailand to observe first hand the battle to organise Burmese women workers in exile.

 
 

Ma Hnin Se, Ma Thi Da, and MaYe

Ma Hnin Se, Ma Thi Da, and MaYe, are three young Burmese women who live in Mae Sot on the Thai side of the Thai- Burma border. They are three of the 60,000 Burmese workers in Mae Sot who have fled the repressive Burmese military regime and economic ruin in Burma.

All three of these women are activists in the recently formed Burmese Labour Solidarity Organisation (BLSO) which organises Burmese workers in Thailand. I had the privilege of meeting with these and other BLSO activists last November, in the BLSO's Worker's Centre in Mae Sot, the venue of meetings, marriages, and funerals of Burmese workers in the area.

As Burmese workers in Thailand they face incredible challenges, working 12 to 14 hours a day in the most dirty, dangerous and degrading jobs and earning around half the minimum wage of a Thai workers (60 Baht, AUS $1.50). One common scheme by business operators exploiting the fact that many of the workers entering illegally or fleeing the Burmese regime is to make workers work for a month til pay day then dob them into the authorities the day before so they don't have to pay up.

Ma Hnin Se who worked in a shoe factory explained that bosses forcing long working days put amphetamines in workers drinking water so even when they were exhausted they could fall not asleep on the job. Many women factory workers have to live in the factory premises getting only two days off a month. This raises major personal security issues which Ma Ye, Ma Thi De, and Ma Hnin Se all agreed top the list of concerns for Burmese women workers along with the constant threat of deportation.

Other BLSO members related accounts of a worker killed as a result of an accident on the job and the boss taking no responsibility, the BLSO raised money for medical care and then a funeral. They also told of an incident of a rape of one worker and the murder of another by the friend of a factory owner. These crimes went completely unpunished by local authorities but the BLSO campaigned to get some form of compensation for the victims.

Gaining a picture of the conditions under which these women worked it became apparent that organising workers under such circumstances was no mean feat. Mo Swe, the secretary of the BLSO explained that factory operators recruiting women workers thinking they would be easier to push around got a rude shock when they discovered they were often the most militant unionists, determined to fight for their rights.

Women factory workers organised by the BLSO had stood up to the attempts not to pay workers and campaigned against the poor security at live-in factories.

Despite the obviously extremely different and difficult conditions that the BLSO activists operate under there were some similarities with the way unionists organise here in Australia. Ma Thi Da who had worked in a local ceramics factory prior to stopping work to have her baby, explained that they involved workers in the BLSO through one to one discussions and through taking action to deal with issues on the job. Through their activity the BLSO is seen as the group to go to in order to win fairer treatment for workers.

The BLSO runs two schools and a health clinic for children of the Burmese workers, who are denied access to education and medical care in Thailand. When we visited one school it was a festival day so classes were not on, but it was apparent that although the school was well organised, and had very capable teachers it was run on very meagre resources. Children were playing with rubber bands on the floor of the school and it occurred to me that Ma Ye who worked at a toy factory could probably never afford to buy the products she made.

On International Women's Day I think of the bravery and strength of the BLSO women activists such as Ma Hnin Se, Ma Thi Da, and Ma Ye are doing incredible work to improve the lot of Burmese workers in Thailand. For me their work really highlights the need for us as unionists to give solidarity to the Burmese struggle for democracy, but also the necessity for us as unionists to globalise solidarity with workers every where.

If you would like to find out more about the BLSO you can contact them via email on [email protected]. You can also send donations to: BLSO, PO Box 37, Mae Sot, TAK 63110 THAILAND.


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*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 87 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Working Woman
Cheryl Kernot on women in the workplace, Labor's male culture and where Meg went wrong.
*
*  Activists: Honouring Our Heroes
Anna Stewart changed the lives of Australian working families by helping women achieve balance between the competing demands of work and family.
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*  Women: The Future is Female
Julia Gillard outlines the campaign to increase female representation within the Australian Labor Party.
*
*  Unions: Sweatshops Ė Beyond 2001
FairWear convenor Debbie Carstens looks over a unique partnership between churches and unions to end exploitation in the textile industry.
*
*  Politics: The Battle for Bennelong
Many trade unionists are working to kick John Howard out of office. But only one woman has a chance of kicking him out of his own seat. Meet Nicole Campbell.
*
*  International: Border Skirmishes
Alana Kerr travelled to Thailand to observe first hand the battle to organise Burmese women workers in exile.
*
*  History: Inside the Ladies Lounge
The McDonald sisters run Trades Hall, and have for over half a century. The building canít speak about what has gone on in that time, but Lorna and Elaine probably know it all.
*
*  Satire: Taliban to Put One Nation Last
The Parliamentary fate of Pauline Hansonís One Nation party was further obscured today as key fellow right-wing extremists moved to distance themselves from the controversial Queensland politician and the group she founded and leads.
*
*  Review: Seven Steps to Slavation
Jenny Macklin details the seven barriers that stand between women and a better working life.
*

News
»  Sweat Stains the Great Aussie Cossie
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»  Chinks Emerge in Carrís Call Centre Stonewall
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»  Telstra Called on Part-Time Work
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»  ACTU Pushes for Reasonable Hours
*
»  Ruddock Faces Legal Action Over Working Visas
*
»  National Textiles Revisited: More Workers Dumped
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»  New on the Menu: Home Delivery AWAs
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»  Pay Equity Case Up And Running
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»  Child Care OH&S 'a Time Bomb'
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»  New Precedent for Workers with Print Disabilities
*
»  Australian Shippers Promote Slavery
*
»  Ambos Tried Without a Jury
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»  Unions Cautious Over New Insurance Deal
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»  Fears Over Future of Unfair Contracts
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»  APESMA Launches Professional Womenís Network Directory
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»  Womenís Gateway Launched
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»  EMILY's List Raises Flag for Women Candidates
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»  Web Pioneer Goes Global
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»  Public Education Day on March 15
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»  Activists Notebook
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Columns
»  The Soapbox
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»  The Locker Room
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Tool Shed
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Letters to the editor
»  Viva La Shane!
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»  Still the Same
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»  Sydney Council Tip of Iceberg
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»  New Battle Grounds
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»  Patricks Footnote
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»  The Ripple Effect
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