The National Union of Metalworkers, South Africa’s largest labor organization, said it’s accepting miners who have started to turn to it as a strike at the world’s biggest platinum mines drags on for an 11th week.
“There are people who are coming to the organization and we’re taking them,” Mphumzi Maqungo, national treasurer for the union that’s known as Numsa, said in an interview at its Johannesburg offices today. “We are getting in the mining industry.”
Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union have been on strike at the three largest platinum producers since Jan. 23, demanding that basic wages are more than doubled. The AMCU last year displaced the National Union of Mineworkers as the biggest representative of employees at Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (AMS), Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. (IMP) and Lonmin Plc. While dissent within the AMCU has emerged, the size of the factions hasn’t been established.
The NUM is part of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, an ally of the ruling African National Congress, while the AMCU says it’s apolitical.
Numsa, which is a Cosatu affiliate, said in December it won’t back the ANC in the May 7 general election. The organization has criticized the ANC’s economic policies, which it says favor the wealthy and black elite and haven’t done enough to reduce poverty and create jobs for the one in four South Africans without work.
“Numsa’s entrance into the mining sector poses a longer-term threat to the established unions,be they AMCU or NUM,” Anne Fruhauf, a southern Africa analyst at New York-based risk evaluator Teneo Intelligence, said by e-mail. “Recruitment may take time, but the labor landscape and union membership have become extraordinarily fluid. Crises like the protracted platinum strike and Cosatu’s internal turmoil offer opportunities for Numsa to assert itself at the political and shop-floor level.”
Numsa, with more than 340,000 workers in automotive and engineering industries, has a growing presence in South Africa’s coal-, gold- and platinum-mining areas, according to Maqungo.
“In Mpumalanga, for example, we’ve got membership; in Rustenburg, there are members there,” he said. “In Carletonville, we’ve just opened an office.” AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. (ANG), the world’s third-largest bullion producer, has mines in the Carletonville area, while Rustenburg is the center of the platinum industry. Mpumalanga is home to most of the country’s collieries.
About 1,800 Numsa members at Anglo American Platinum’s refineries and smelters ended a strike after accepting a wage deal March 20.
The strike “is a bad situation and we hope a solution will be found,” Maqungo said. “We support the struggle of workers irrespective of a union they are affiliated to.”
While Numsa isn’t actively recruiting in the mining industry, it’s researching the issues employees are bringing to them in order to serve the new members, he said.
“You want to make sure that you don’t create high expectation and then the next thing is that when workers are inside you can’t represent them and then the next thing that happened to the National Union of Mineworkers happens to us,” Maqungo said.
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