Khaing Zar Aung from Myanmar wins the Arthur Svensson International Prize for 2024

– The prize committee is focusing on the fight against the military regime in Myanmar and the importance of labor unions in the struggle for real democracy, including basic workers’ rights, says Espen Løken, advisor at IE&FLT.

In a time marked by oppression and political unrest in Myanmar, labor unions, representatives, and members are fighting a very important battle.

– Khaing Zar Aung symbolizes all those who dedicate their time for a better society, says Løken.

Espen Løken. Photo: Egil Brandsøy.

From textile worker to union leader

Khaing Zar Aung started as a textile worker at the age of 16 and became a union activist 17 years ago while working as a migrant worker in Thailand.

During Myanmar’s democratic transition 12 years ago, she became the leader of the Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), organizing textile workers, mainly young women.

The textile industry expanded rapidly as more international brands moved production there due to cheap labor.

She was also part of the leadership of the largest union, the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), which was banned in Myanmar until 2012.

The voice of the labor movement in Myanmar

Espen Løken says that after the bloody military coup in 2021, Khaing Zar Aung was once again forced into exile, this time in Germany.

– She has emerged as the voice of the labor movement in Myanmar in Europe and in global forums, he says.

– She continues to fight against the military junta in international bodies, mobilizes for international solidarity, puts pressure on international brands to withdraw from Myanmar, and has campaigned for the EU to withdraw trade preferences as long as the military junta remains in power, says Løken.

Photo: IndustriALL.

The military junta has now been in power for over three years with the help of military force. At least 4,600 people have been killed, and 25,000-30,000 have been arrested. Many of these are union activists who have participated in the resistance.

– The junta does not respect human rights, concludes Løken.

SEE ALSO: A video where Espen Løken explains why the prize is important and introduces the winner, Khaing Zar Aung.

Labor movement central in the major protests against the military junta

Espen Løken emphasizes that the labor movement has been central in the major protests and the fight against the military junta.

Espen Løken publishing an article about the prize winner. Photo: Egil Brandsøy.

– After the military coup, a strong alliance has emerged between various ethnic groups, youth, students, political groups, and labor unions demanding genuine democracy and a federal state, not just a restoration of what was before 2021, says Løken, adding:

– In this alliance, female textile workers with leaders like Khaing Zar Aung play a very important role. Today, the resistance movement is advancing, and there is real hope that it can succeed, he emphasizes.

Prize ceremony in Oslo on June 12

Khaing Zar Aung will receive the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Labour Rights during a ceremony at Rockefeller in Oslo on June 12.