News / Economy

South Africa's AMCU to Strike at World's Top Platinum Producers

Joseph Mathunjwa (R), president of South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), arrives to address members of the mining community during a rally in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, Jan.19, 2014.
Joseph Mathunjwa (R), president of South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), arrives to address members of the mining community during a rally in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, Jan.19, 2014.
Reuters
The main trade union for South African platinum miners will strike next week at the world's top three producers, hitting over half of global output and the margins of companies struggling to make profits.
    
A simultaneous stoppage at the three producers would hit a key South African export at a time when the rand currency is near five-year lows, and deal a fresh blow to investor confidence in Africa's biggest economy.
    
Renewed labor unrest would also be an unwelcome distraction for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress (ANC) ahead of general elections expected in three months.
    
Members of South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to strike at world No. 1 producer Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) in a show of hands in a stadium in the platinum belt city of Rustenburg.
    
Around 15,000 miners had piled into the stadium in a display of force ahead of the industrial action.
    
In recent days, AMCU members also voted to strike at Amplats' rivals Lonmin and Impala Platinum (Implats).
    
AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa told the rally that Amplats would be served notice of the strike action on Monday and workers would down tools on Thursday.
    
The union said last week it would do the same at Lonmin and spokesman Jimmy Gama told Reuters after the mass meeting that Implats would also get its notice on Monday.
    
"Comrades, let's intensify the struggle for a better wage," Mathunjwa, a charismatic lay preacher who has styled himself as a Christian warrior waging class war for South Africa's black workers, said to roars of approval from the crowd.
    
He earlier swept into the stadium in a brand new Lexus car, flanked by three burly white bodyguards, to a rock star welcome and wild cheers from AMCU members, most of whom were clad in the union's trademark green shirts.
    
Such a display of wealth and power is sure to be fodder for the critics of AMCU, which poached tens of thousands of members from the once unchallenged National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in part by exploiting rank and file perceptions that its rival had grown too close to management.
    
Its turf war with NUM has killed dozens of people and sparked a wave of wildcat strikes in 2012 that pushed Amplats, a unit of Anglo American, into the red that year.
    
But AMCU has been playing by the rules and has permission from a government mediator - a legal requirement in South Africa - to proceed with the strikes, provided it gives the employers notice of at least 48 hours.
    
The union conflict also has political implications as NUM is a key ally of the ANC and speakers criticized the ruling party.
    
Madiba Bukhali, a regional AMCU leader, told the rally that miners had put the ANC in parliament "but now they have forgotten us, now that they are out of this hole."
    
"Zuma, we voted for him but he has built a huge house and forgotten his neighbors," he said, referring to a $21 million state-funded security upgrade to the president's private home that has been widely criticized by the South African press and opposition parties.

Living wage 
    
At Amplats and Lonmin, the union is seeking a minimum monthly wage of 12,500 rand ($1,200) for entry-level workers - more than double current levels, under the populist battle cry of a "living wage". At Implats the union scaled back its demand late last year to just over 8,500 rand.
    
Companies have said they can ill afford steep increases as power and other costs soar against the backdrop of depressed prices for the white metal used in emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.
    
Platinum's spot price shed 11 percent last year and is about 40 percent down from record peaks scaled in 2008.
    
AMCU is also under pressure to deliver on its promises now that it is the dominant union on the platinum belt, setting the stage for a bruising showdown between capital and labor.
    
Miners may struggle to hold out without pay if the strike becomes protracted. The typical South African mine worker has eight dependents, many of whom are peasants in rural areas far from the shafts. This stokes their demands but also means they cannot survive for long without an income.
    
But AMCU is known for its discipline and militancy.
    
Over half of global platinum supply will be halted and around two-thirds or more could be impacted if the strike includes Amplats' joint venture partners, though it is not clear if that will be the case.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7537
JPY
USD
103.79
GBP
USD
0.6032
CAD
USD
1.0957
INR
USD
60.522

Rates may not be current.