The changing face of Cosatu

2012-09-15 15:50

Labour federation Cosatu’s members are changing as an increasing amount of public-sector workers join its affiliates.

Its members were once primarily workers from the mining and manufacturing industries. But today, a Cosatu member is increasingly likely to be a literate civil servant who is about 40 years old and earns more than R5 000 a month.

The federation is pondering its membership as it heads into its national congress in Midrand tomorrow.

The changing face of Cosatu members is revealed in both its Naledi report on the state of Costau affiliates and this year’s Workers’ Survey.


The two reports reveal that Cosatu’s representation in the public sector has increased from 78 000 members in
1991 to 930 357 this year.

This means that 42% of the organisation’s 2.2 million members are from the public sector, compared to just 6% two decades ago.

Nine Cosatu affiliates organise in the public sector, among them police and prison workers’ union Popcru, which grew by more than 20 000 members between last year and this year.

Others, like the SA Municipal Workers’ Union and the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, also grew by between 14 000 and 20 000 members respectively in this period.

The fast growth of membership in the public sector threatens to erode the traditional Cosatu member profile.

“The growth in the public sector can be attributed to the fact that unions were previously barred from organising in the public sector under apartheid.

"It is important for Cosatu to reflect on what this changing composition means for the federation’s orientation,” said Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi in his draft secretariat report to be discussed at the congress.

The organisation is also trying to attract more young members.

In his secretariat report, Vavi spoke of a “worrying under-representation of young workers”.

Only 10% to 20% of young workers were members of Cosatu affiliates, the Workers’ Survey found.

It also found that only one in seven Cosatu members were younger than 30.

“These statistics on age should be a real wake-up call for us. We are clearly not doing enough to attract young workers,” Vavi said in the report.

Another cause for concern, according to the Naledi report, is that Cosatu is failing to organise properly among the poorest of the poor.

“What remains dismal is the level of unionisation in the agriculture, construction, retail and domestic-services industries,” it said in the report.

The congress runs until Thursday.

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