Female garment industry union leaders are emerging at the forefront of the deadly anti-military protests, and asking global brands to take their side.
Ma Moe Sandar Myint is the leader of one of Myanmar’s largest garment worker unions. Until recently, the 37-year-old mother of three and former sewing machine operator would spend her days representing workers with labor complaints and helping members of the Federation of Garment Workers Myanmar unionize their factories.
But her life changed Feb. 1, the day a coup brought back full military rule to the country after years of quasi-democracy. When the internet was cut off, workers flocked to the union’s offices. Several days of informal meetings led to small-scale strikes on factory floors, spilling onto the streets outside and eventually feeding many of the increasingly deadly mass demonstrations that have taken place across Myanmar in recent weeks. Often seen at the very front, wearing a mask and white helmet, was Ms. Moe Sandar Myint.
Responsible for more than 20 marches, she is now one of a number of garment workers turned union organizers who have been catapulted from relative anonymity to the forefront of a swelling political movement. Many are women. And most say that past experience organizing militant strikes and tight local networks while building the country’s garment factory unions has played a key part of preparing them for this new role.