South Africa's biggest union calls strike for March 19

JOHANNESBURG Sun Mar 16, 2014 10:52am EDT

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's biggest union has called a one-day strike for Wednesday to highlight youth unemployment in the country, where one in four people are jobless, the union said.

The 340,000-member National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) draws its members from car manufacturing, the metal industry, transport and general workers.

The strike would be the latest in a string of work stoppages in Africa's largest economy, weeks before a May 7 general election.

"It is a strike that members in all other unions can join. We think half a million workers will take part," Karl Cloete, deputy general secretary of NUMSA, told Reuters on Sunday.

In December, NUMSA, the biggest bloc in the COSATU labor grouping, said it would not support the ruling African National Congress in the election.

Many South Africans are disgruntled by the slow pace at which the ANC led by President Jacob Zuma is rolling back poverty two decades after the end of apartheid.

A strike over wages in the platinum sector has been going on for nearly two months and has cost employees more than 3.8 billion rand ($354 million) in lost earnings.

The strike has cost mining companies 8.6 billion rand in revenue so far, according to a tally updated almost every second on the Chamber of Mines' website.

($1 = 10.7215 South African Rand)

(Reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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