Massive changes at Cosatu

2010-07-17 07:59

Labour federation Cosatu is ­realigning some of its unions that

have come under increasing ­pressure in the industries they represent.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said a policy decision was

taken at the federation’s ­central committee to merge some of its unions so that

one union ­would represent a particular industry.

The restructuring would merge the members of the Communications

Workers’ Union (CWU) into the South African Transport and Allied Workers’


The CWU, which has lost thousands of members in the Post ­Office in

the past 16 months to the newly formed South African Postal Workers’ Union, was

this week suspended by Cosatu after the ­union failed to pay its affiliation fee

for seven consecutive months.

Speaking on this, Vavi said: “This is an internal policy matter. I

think we should not discuss the matter in the media.”

In an interview earlier this year, Vavi said Cosatu was looking at

the relationship between the ­National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) in the energy sector,

­particularly at Eskom.

“NUM and Numsa are competing for members at Eskom. The scope of NUM

is to cover energy workers, and Numsa should have no business at Eskom,” he


NUM has 16 000 members working at Eskom while Numsa has about

8 000.

A realignment at Eskom would see Numsa with 24 000 members,

dramatically ­increasing its bargaining power because of the potential effect on

Eskom’s business should its ­members decide to go on strike.

Vavi said the decision was made for the benefit of workers.

Sakhela Buhlungu, a professor at the University of Johannesburg’s

sociology of work division, said the restructuring process would present ups and


“If the process is successful, we will stop having a ­situation

where members of ­Cosatu unions are fragmented in an organisation and not able

to speak with one voice,” he said.

“And it would become impossible for the management of ­companies to

play one group against another union, especially during wage negotiation

periods,” he said.

Buhlungu cautioned that ­Cosatu’s decision to restructure the

unions might cause tension among certain unions as some might not be keen to

hand over their members to other unions.

“Having more members means more income and gives an added advantage

when voting during Cosatu conferences.”

Buhlungu said he was not ­surprised by the restructuring ­because

it was prescribed by ­Cosatu’s constitution, which states there must be one

union ­operating in one sector.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union is

­another organisation that ­competes with other Cosatu ­stablemates – the South

African Democratic Teachers’ Union, the ­Democratic Nursing Organisation of

South Africa and the South African Democratic Union.

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