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Cosatu’s membership woes

Johannesburg -

With its 2.2 million members, Cosatu is Africa’s largest trade union federation, but its membership is a far cry from the target of 4 million it set for itself in 2009.

(file photo) A policeman (R) keeps watch as angry Cosatu supporters chant slogans during a march by the Democratic Alliance in Johannesburg. Credit: REUTERS

According to its organisational report, Cosatu’s membership and affiliate make-up has changed drastically since 1994, an indicator of the changing nature of employment patterns in the country.

The majority of its members are either in the public sector or working in the mining or automotive sectors.

One in every 10 members in Cosatu is a teacher, compared to 1995 when teachers’ union Sadtu had only 59 000 members. Today, Sadtu is Cosatu’s fourth-largest affiliate and boasts a membership of 251 276.

According to Cosatu’s organisational report, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) remains Cosatu’s largest affiliate, with 310 382 members, compared to 270 000 in 1994.

Cosatu believes the NUM is “under attack” in the platinum belt from its former members and other forces and is facing increasing pressure from the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

But the NUM also holds the purse strings of Cosatu, making the largest contribution to its coffers.

The second-largest affiliate is the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, with 291 025 members, up from 170 000 in 1994.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union is the third-largest affiliate with 260 738 members. In 1994 the union had only 64 000 members.

Data from the federation’s workers’ survey showed there was a “worrying” under-representation of young workers, with the average age of members being 40.

“This should be a real wake-up call for us, we are clearly not doing enough to attract young workers,” said the report.

The gender data was even worse than the age data, said the report.

There are 193 unions in the country, with 117 of these independent, but no data on their exact size and membership.

According to Stats SA, overall trade union density is 32 percent. Half a million of Cosatu’s members earn less than R2 500 a month. - The Star

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