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South African labour: Unions at war

Irvin Jim, Numsa general secretary | Screen capture from Numsa press briefing in August, SABC News

The National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa (Numsa) has “declared war” on its sister union, the National Union of Minerworkers (NUM), and by extension, the country’s biggest trade union federation Cosatu.

Numsa’s General Secretary Irvin Jim announced that his union would “openly recruit in the mining industry and welcome NUM members,” South Africa’s Mail & Guardian reports.

Numsa, like NUM, is an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSTAU).

Mail & Guardian writes that during a speech at the Numsa special congress on Wednesday, Jim told those who oppose the idea of Numsa recruiting from among NUM’s membership to “go to hell.”

The organization will now openly recruit members away from NUM, in direct violation of Cosatu’s principle of “one union per sector.”

Currently Numsa’s membership includes members of the engineering, car manufacturing and electronics sectors.

In a release published ahead of Numsa’s special congress, Numsa criticized Cosatu, saying a state of ‘paralysis’ had emerged.

After not receiving an invitation to address Numsa’s congress earlier this week, Cosatu published a respectful warning, noting that though an invitation is not a “constitutional requirement,” it has been the “custom and practice” for years. The Federation added a reminder that its affiliates “must abide by the COSATU constitution.”

It’s certainly not the first time Numsa has created a schism with Cosatu. In November the organisation was accused of “conniving with the rival Association of Mineworkers and Constrcution Union (Amcu),” as reported by Independent Online.

But NUM’s membership issues are much deeper. Over the past year the union has lost many workers its rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu). During the summer Amcu ousted NUM as the official union of the world’s third biggest platinum miner, Lonmin.

Just last week the world’s biggest platinum miner, Anglo American Platinum, said that after five months of recruiting Amcu now represents 60% of its shaft workers.

The turf war between Amcu and NUM has killed dozens of people. Last month a former NUM shop steward was gunned down – the fourth person with ties to NUM to have been murdered over a three-month period.