Myanmar’s CDM participants support the cause but face hardships

18 September 2023
Myanmar’s CDM participants support the cause but face hardships
File Photo: Anti-coup protesters hold up signs calling on others to join the CDM (Civil Disobedience Movement)

At the 30th cabinet meeting of the National Unity Government (NUG) held in early September, the NUG Acting President Duwa Lashi La encouraged the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) to intensify its efforts, recognizing its effectiveness in opposing the military dictatorship.

“During the Spring Revolution, the CDM has become an effective public movement in trying to defeat the military dictatorship. We need to consider how to continue to expand the movement to make it practical in the revolution,” said the Acting President.

During Myanmar's Spring Revolution, the CDM has been a widespread expression of collective protest. It encompassed public sector employees across various echelons of the civil service, ranging from healthcare workers, educators, and banking staff to railway employees, oil and gas industry workers, engineers, legal professionals, and judges. Furthermore, it extended to encompass even members of the security forces who steadfastly declined to cooperate with the junta that had orchestrated the military coup in 2021. Additionally, a significant number of students opted to boycott junta-affiliated educational institutions during this period.

The CDM movement is the non-violent element of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution, a contrast to the myriad People’s Defence Forces (PDF) involved in armed struggle.

NUG’s Prime Minister Mahn Win Khaing Than said on 18 April this year that there are already nearly 10,000 soldiers participating in the CDM movement, which means they defected from the junta army.

However, there has been criticism within the CDM, particularly concerning its support for the workers participating in the general strike.

Recently, the NUG said that it blacklisted non-CDM employees from various departments and announced that they [non-CDM employees] will be punished according to the law when the Spring Revolution is successful.

Regarding the challenges faced by employees participating in the CDM, specifically those involved in the general strike, U Ba (a pseudonym), who did not join the CDM said, "My monthly salary is less than 200,000 Kyat [about US$60]. As a non-CDM, my salary is not sufficient, but this salary helps the household expenses a little.”

Many people need work to survive.

“They are justified in urging employees to participate in the CDM, but it's crucial to consider the predicament of those at the grassroots level, who possess very little and deserve sympathy. Has the president [NUG’s Acting President] ever lived the life of a working-class person who must make ends meet day by day, only to face uncertainty about the next day's sustenance? The movement has lasted for nearly three years, so it is difficult to endure the challenges,” said U Ba.

An anonymous university student who participated in the CDM by refusing to attend a junta university now ponders how much certainty their future holds.

“If I complete four years of university, I will graduate. Now, I still don't have a (university) degree yet. Everyone already knows why we talk about a degree. The NUG knows it. The Military Council also knows it. Employers also know it. Despite this awareness among employers, they continue to adhere to the convention of hiring only after graduation. Consequently, many of us find ourselves without job opportunities,” he said.

No degree, no job remains an issue.

"To be honest, apart from the students, many people are returning to a relatively normal lifestyle.

Though they are living normal lives, nobody criticizes them. However, the social punishment for students who attend junta-controlled schools remains effective. So far, the most successful aspect of the CDM has been the student boycott in the education sector. I'm curious about the level of assurance available for the students [regarding the future],” he said.

"I understand that we can access various subjects through NUG's online courses, but it's crucial to translate that knowledge into real-life recognition,” said the student.

Facebook users also call for effective support for struggling CDM participants in the comment section on the NUG's official Facebook page.

“We need effective support for CDM participants. It is very difficult for the families of CDM participants at the grassroots level. Please carefully consider the actual conditions, as I am a CDM participant who defected from the army," commented a Facebook user on the NUG's official Facebook page.

"You say that the CDM movement is an effective movement. But CDM participants have not been given effective support. CDM participants have encountered hardship due to soaring commodity prices,” said another commentator.

Another Facebook user said, “CDM participants are starving.”

However, there are dedicated CDM participants who persevere despite facing hardships.

"It's undeniable that we face challenges in securing our livelihoods. However, I voluntarily joined the CDM out of my personal conviction, without any external persuasion. I have no regrets and absolutely refuse to work in schools under this Military Council," shared an anonymous CDM teacher.

Myanmar's Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) against the military junta was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022, but did not win the prize.