The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was launched in December 1985 after four years of unity talks between unions opposed to apartheid and committed to a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. At our launch we represented less than half a million workers organised in 33 unions. We currently have more than two million workers, of whom at least 1.8 million are paid up. Even by international standards we have been among the fastest growing trade union movements in the world. Today when most trade unions are facing a decline in membership, we have continued to grow.
Our main broad strategic objectives have always been:
- To improve material conditions of our members and of the working people as a whole.
- To organise the unorganised
- To ensure worker participation in the struggle for peace and democracy Principles
- From its inception, the federation is based on the following core principles:
Non-racialism – COSATU rejects apartheid and racism in all its forms. We believe that all workers, regardless of race, should organise and unite. Now more than ever before we need to bury the apartheid legacy.
Worker control – COSATU believes that workers must control the structures and committees of the federation. This approach aims to keep the organisation vibrant and dynamic, and to maintain close links with the shop floor. We have programmes to develop work er leadership, especially women, within the trade unions and the country as a whole. Through training we have been able to build and empower ordinary workers. We try to develop the skills and abilities of those most disadvantaged by apartheid. We want work ers to be equipped to determine their own future in the country and in the economy. In a country where women have been highly oppressed, we are determined to strive for gender equality and women leadership.
Paid-up membership – COSATU and its affiliated unions strive for self sufficiency. This means that while we receive money for specific projects from other trade unions, we remain able to take our decisions without interference from funders. While it has no t been easy, we remain committed to its full realisation.
One industry, one union – one country, one federation – In order to unite workers across sectors, we have grouped our unions into industries. Our 6th National Congress resolved to merge unions into cartels or broad sectors such as public sector and manufac turing (see list of unions). We also remain committed to unity with all unions and federations that are committed to, among others, these principles. At the same time, for as long as there is no single federation, we have no choice but to recruit even thos e workers who belong to other unions and federations.
International worker solidarity – International solidarity is the lifeblood of trade unionism – particularly in the era of multinational companies. COSATU maintains links with a range of national and international centres. We are committed to building link s with unions in the newly industrialised countries. New international conditions open possibilities for a unified union movement.
History of COSATU Logo – The wheel represents the economy. The workers who drive the economy and the woman with a baby representing the triple challenges of economic exploitation, racial and gender oppression. The colours, Red flag for the working class, Black for the struggle against racial oppression by the black majority, and Gold for the wealth of South Africa. The slogan of an injury to one is an injury to all` is about the vision of social solidarity that binds the working class.