Labour researcher Renee Grawitzky said that Saftu, led by former Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi, had the potential to grow, but it would need to do a lot of ground work to recruit and pull members from the large number of non-organised workers.
“Its future depends on how it begins to grow structures, they will have to go back and start organising workers,” she said.
She was speaking on the sidelines on the last day of the federation’s founding congress at the Birchwood Hotel, east of Johannesburg.
Grawitzky warned against Saftu focusing its energy on the demise of Cosatu as it could lose sight of growing the federation.
“If you are going to focus your energy on destroying Cosatu then you don’t focus your energy on building a strong organisation."
“The days of big, strong trade unions are over, Cosatu was formed on the basis of big strong industrialised unions."
“In those unions, workers are being retrenched in those sectors. If you want to grow, you have to move into those unorganised sectors."
Wits Professor Patrick Bond shared similar sentiments, but said the biggest challenge would be keeping clear of external influences.
“It is possible for them to recruit in unorganised sectors, but the dangers come in when they become too close to the employer and the government. And that has been the criticism of many of the unions within existing federations,” said Bond.
The federation has a new leadership in place and 24 unions on its side, and has now set itself the target of convincing disgruntled workers that they should choose its union as their new home.
It plans to grow its membership base by promising workers a more militant and worker-controlled organisation that is free from political influence.
Although the federation is dominated by smaller unions, it has the biggest union in the country, metalworkers union Numsa by its side.
Saftu held its three-day founding congress at the weekend which was attended by 1 384 delegates representing an estimated 600 000 workers.
Its founding was largely propelled by the expulsion of Vavi and Numsa from Cosatu in 2015.
As expected, Vavi was elected as general secretary, Numsa’s Mac Chavalala as president, first deputy president is Nomvume Ralarala, Thabo Motsotse as second deputy president, Motshwari Lecogo as treasurer and Phakedi Moleko as deputy general secretary.
Saftu delegates agreed on the federation’s principles which were largely based on the same aspects discussed at last year’s Workers’ Summit.
Affiliates plan to be independent from employers and political parties, but will not be apolitical.
The federation will also be worker-controlled and democratic, non-racial and non-sexist, be financially self-sufficient, internationalist, anti-imperialist and socialist orientated.
It also plans to focus its energy on a number of campaigns, some similar to Cosatu, such as the scrapping of e-tolls, and amendments to the Pension Fund Act – which would allow workers to make use of their pension funds for housing.
Saftu has also set its eyes on the more than 70% of non-organised workers, and plans to target Cosatu unions as the federation considers its members as unorganised.