Congress of South African Trade Unions

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COSATU logo.png
Full name Congress of South African Trade Unions
Founded 1 December 1985
Members 1.8 million
Country South Africa
Key people Sidumo Dlamini, president
Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary general
Office location Johannesburg, South Africa

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is a trade union federation in South Africa. It was founded in 1985 and is the largest of the country’s three main trade union federations, with 21 affiliated trade unions, altogether organising 1.8 million workers.


COSATU was established on 1 December 1985 following four years of unity talks between competing unions and federations.[1][2] Among the founding unions was the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU).[3] At its launch it represented less than half a million workers organised in 33 unions, but saw rapid growth in its early years. Elijah Barayi was the organisation’s first president and served until 1991. Other key leaders included Jay Naidoo and Cyril Ramaphosa. COSATU played a leading role in the struggle against apartheid, organising a range of highly effective wage strikes and also general strikes and mobilising support in factories and towns across the country. The most authoritative account of its early years is a book called Striking Back, written by a former COSATU leader Jeremy Baskin and covering the period from 1985 until the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.Its members have grown to nearly 2 million. The COSATU congress decided in 2012 to affiliate with the class-struggle oriented World Federation of Trade Unions, while maintaining its membership within the International Trade Union Confederation.

Affiliated Trade Unions[edit]


COSATU is part of an alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party, called the Tripartite Alliance. COSATU’s role in the alliance has been the subject of debate, since the organisation has been critical of some of the ANC government's policies. While some affiliates have argued for greater independence from the ruling political party, others have argued that the arrangement gives COSATU a political influence beneficial to its members. COSATU's secretary general, Zwelinzima Vavi, has described Jacob Zuma's government as a "predator society."[4]

Labour and social movements[edit]

South Africa has one of the largest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world, with a 2005 estimate of 5.5 million people living with HIV — 12.4% of the population.[5][6] The trade union movement has taken a role in combating this pandemic. COSATU is a key partner in the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a registered charity and political force working to educate and promote understanding about HIV/AIDS, and to prevent new infections, as well as push for greater access to antiretrovirals. In 1998, COSATU passed a resolution to campaign for treatment. “It was clear to the labour movement at that time that its lowest paid members were dying because they couldn’t afford medicines,” says Theodora Steel, Campaigns Coordinator at COSATU. “We saw TAC as a natural ally in a campaign for treatment. We passed a formal resolution at our congress to assist and build TAC.[7]

Notwithstanding the formal alliance of COSATU with the ruling ANC party, it has been at odds with the government, calling for the roll-out of comprehensive public access to antiretroviral drugs.[8]

Abahlali baseMjondolo offered a strong statement of support to the 2010 Public Sector Worker's strike.[9]


In October 2004 and February 2005 COSATU sent delegations to Zimbabwe to judge conditions in that country before the 2005 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections. They were expelled from the country on both occasions.

COSATU has arranged protests and border blockades against the regime in Harare.

Current officeholders[edit]

Regional secretaries:[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ South African History Online. "Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)". Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  2. ^ Cosatu. "Brief History of Cosatu". Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Friedman, Michelle (2010). "The Future is in the Hands of the Workers": A History of Fosatu. Johannesburg: Mutloatse Heritage Trust. p. 122–124. ISBN 978-09869833-1-3. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Zuma slammed as strike builds, The Star, 28 August 2010
  5. ^ "2006 Report on the global AIDS epidemic". UNAIDS. Retrieved 2006-07-11. 
  6. ^ "Country profile - South Africa". ILOAIDS. Retrieved 2006-07-11. 
  7. ^ "Stepping back from the edge". UNAIDS. Retrieved 2006-07-11. 
  8. ^ "South African Union Boss Demands Government Supply Anti-AIDS Drugs". The Retrieved 2006-07-11. 
  9. ^ Hospitals blocked as South African unions resume massive strikes, Sipho January, Observer, 19 August 2010
  10. ^ Worker leaders

External links[edit]