* Strike would hit over half of world platinum output
* Union members have already voted for Implats strike
* AMCU president says union is working-class "vanguard"
By Ed Stoddard and Zandi Shabalala
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 15 South Africa's Association
of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) said on Wednesday
it would call a strike in the platinum industry if its members
backed such action.
AMCU members have voted in favour of a stoppage at Impala
Platinum over wages, and the union will canvas its rank
and file this week at Anglo American Platinum and
The three are the world's top producers of the precious
metal and account for more than half of global output.
A simultaneous stoppage at the trio 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
the continent's biggest economy.
Renewed labour unrest will also be an unwelcome distraction
for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National
Congress ahead of general elections expected in three months.
AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa told reporters a decision
would be made next week.
"Yes, there will be a strike, if our members give us the
go-ahead we won't hesitate to do that. AMCU is not a company, it
doesn't have a board of directors. We get a mandate from our
members," he said.
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.
Using typically combative language, Mathunjwa, clad in a
trademark green AMCU shirt, said his union's drive for a living
wage "has unsettled the capitalists, who have over the years
benefited from intensified exploitation of workers".
Mathunjwa, a charismatic lay-preacher who has cast himself
in the role of a Christian soldier fighting for South Africa's
black workers, said AMCU was the "genuine vanguard of the
working class" - wording sure to raise boardroom eyebrows.
AMCU has emerged as the dominant union on South Africa's
platinum belt over the past two years after wresting tens of
thousands of members from the National Union of Mineworkers
(NUM) in a turf war in which dozens of people were killed.
This included the police killing of 34 striking workers
outside Lonmin's Marikana mine in August 2012, the deadliest
security incident since the end of apartheid which has become a
political nightmare for the ANC on the platinum belt.
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.
Amplats, a unit of global mining house Anglo American
, fell into a loss in 2012 in part because of a wave of
wildcat strikes rooted in the NUM/AMCU conflict.
Platinum's spot price shed 11 percent last year and
is about 40 percent down from record peaks scaled in 2008.
Mathunjwa on Wednesday also dismissed local media reports of
divisions emerging in AMCU's ranks because some workers were
reportedly angry at its failure to deliver on promises.
"There are no cracks in AMCU," he told Reuters.
He also said an AMCU chairman at Amplats, who was quoted in
the Business Report newspaper as saying workers were losing
patience with Mathunjwa, was a troublemaker who had been
expelled from the union by the local branch.
AMCU also has thousands of members in the gold sector who
have rejected wage increases of 8 percent agreed last year by
NUM. Mathunjwa said its members could down tools at bullion
producers such as AngloGold Ashanti.