The State of cosatu phase One Report August 2006 Table of Contents




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3.3Implications for union organising


COSATU affiliates have largely not been successful in organising non-core workers, apart from some modest progress in certain affiliates, for example, SACCAWU, SACTWU and SATAWU. Conscious and dedicated efforts to organise non-core workers are central to improving working conditions and bargaining power for both core and non-core workers. There is a danger of divisions between core workers and non-core workers created by differing pay and working conditions as well as job insecurity. This is where the role of trade unions is crucial in facilitating solidarity and struggles directed at the employer.
Some instances have been recounted of core workers viewing non-core workers as not being proper workers and as undermining their working conditions, while non-core workers may feel that core workers and trade unions are not interested in their problems6. This potential for divisions among workers constitutes a threat to trade unions because it can undermine their power. Ultimately, the growth of non-core work will undermine the conditions of core workers unless trade unions manage to build solidarity between core and non-core workers.
In the peripheral zone there have been important initiatives to organise outside of the union movement, such as the Self-employed Woman's Union (SEWU) and various hawkers organisations. This shows that informal sector workers can be organised, and can engage in struggle and negotiations with, for example, local authorities and local business. However, these organisations remain weak and under-resourced and therefore have a limited impact. SEWU has collapsed, which points to major challenges in the sustainability of organisation amongst informal traders, however it also points to the need for renewed strategising on how best to organise.
If COSATU wishes to expand its organisation in the non-core zone it should:

    • Mobilise and organise non-core workers

    • Build solidarity between non-core workers and core workers

    • Use their power among core workers to put pressure on employers

  • Consider much more innovative social movement strategies for organising externalised and informalised sweatshop workers, such as mobilising them on a community-wide basis and engaging in large-scale marches and demonstrations, rather than trying to establish shop steward structures and negotiating relations with each sweatshop employer

  • Build alliances with community organisations and social movements to strengthen efforts to organise in the non-core zone

  • Adopt a differential membership fee for atypical workers, whilst giving them full membership rights

If COSATU wishes to facilitate organisation in the peripheral zone, it should:



  • Acknowledge that its industrial affiliates have structures and practices which are inappropriate for organising on the terrain of the peripheral zone

  • Establish alliances with organisations that do have appropriate structures and organising practices, and assist them with resources and joint campaigns

  • Where such organisations don't exist, be ready to facilitate or support the establishment of such organisations

  • Consider establishing a portfolio within COSATU head office to explore these possibilities

  • As with the non-core zone, organisation and mobilisation in the peripheral zone would benefit from alliances with community organisations and social movements

Current economic policy and corporate strategies are having a devastating impact on the working people. COSATU can bang the drums of policy alternatives as much as it likes, but unless there is strong organisation and mobilisation amongst the working poor it will be ignored.



4Labour and Politics

This section looks at the political and economic context and the ways in which the nature of the post-apartheid political economy has affected the labour movement. It further reflects upon the ability of the labour movement to influence the transformation process in this era.


A number of studies as well as various COSATU discussion documents have reflected on these issues in a detailed and informative manner. This paper will therefore not discuss these issues in depth, but will merely highlight key issues for debate and analysis, drawing on research and writings on the labour movement by academics and labour analysts, COSATU discussion documents and reports, as well as NALEDI research and analysis. The focus of this paper is on the organisational implications of broader political and economic trends.
The questions that arise in the current context are as follows:


  • To what extent and in what ways have trade unions been changed by the transition, and how have trade unions impacted on the democratisation process?

  • How does the current climate and changing responses of trade unions to this impact on worker control and internal democracy?

  • What are the striking organisational strengths and weaknesses of this period?

  • What is the assessment of researchers and analysts of COSATU’s political strategies?

  • What forms of trade unionism are characteristic of this period?

  • How does organisational renewal respond to these challenges?

Section 4 therefore encompasses the following sub-sections:




    • Economic changes and COSATU’s impact on economic policy

    • COSATU and civil society alliances

    • COSATU’s political strategy

    • The impact of the neo-liberal political and economic environment on COSATU
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