Ruling party aligned union losing grip on South Africa mining

Between 80,000 and 100,000 miners, or almost 20% of the sector's workers in South Africa, are now on wildcat strikes that began more than a month ago.

South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the country's largest, is struggling to maintain its control over the sector which it has long-dominated.

NUM is a pivotal part of the labour federation  Cosatu which with the SA Communist Party and the African National Congress (ANC) form the so-called Tri-partite Alliance which have ruled the country since the end of Apartheid in 1994.

NUM's diminishing influence – blamed in part on its political affiliations and its perceived closeness to big business – is most striking at Impala Platinum's Rustenberg mine where its enrollment has dropped to 13% from 70% before.

Impala Platinum, the world's number two producer of the precious metal, is now attempting to terminate NUM's recognition agreement after its workforce defied NUM and engaged in a seven-week strike.

The miner has now entered into negotiations with the Association of Mining and Construction Union (Amcu) rather than NUM.

The battle between NUM and Amcu was a crucial component of the unrest at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine in August which led to the killing of 34 people at the hands of security forces.

The 22% pay increase which were subsequently given to Marikana miners, prompted workers at world number one platinum producer Amplats, gold giants Anglogold Ashanti and Gold Fields to make similar wage demands.

Workers at these mines were quickly followed by other gold companies, coal miners and iron ore workers. Anglo Platinum fired 12,000 striking workers for failing to attend disciplinary hearings on Friday.

Frans Baleni, the general secretary of NUM said in September the union is working hard "to prevent a jobs bloodbath," but that "anarchy is being rewarded" in the industry.

Globally South Africa is the fourth largest producer of iron ore, holds the same rank for annual gold production, is the number one in platinum output and holds fifth spot for steam coal.