Cosatu’s political and organisational reports show the federation’s membership continued to decline after the expulsion of its biggest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa).
According to an organisational report, Cosatu has haemorrhaged 317463 members since 2015 - a number that is more than the total membership of its current biggest affiliate, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union, which has 275083 members.
The federation’s membership sharply dropped from 1923436 in 2015 to 1605973 this year, a 16.5% decline, according to the organisational report.
Cosatu said its woes were undermining its capacity to act in a unified way and despite interventions that gave it more authority over its affiliates, some defiant unions continued to assert their autonomy.
“In the actual process of intervention, it became clear that authority without resources to exercise such authority in the face of resistance rendered such authority meaningless. In many cases where the federation had been intervening in unions, it was limited by unavailability of resources particularly in relation to addressing the membership directly.
“Because of its lack of capacity, and the weak link between affiliates and its centre, Cosatu as a federation is unable to support, in a consistent way, an affiliate which is weak or is experiencing internal problems,” the report said.
The SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) has suffered a 53.4% drop in membership, from 218014 in 2015 to 101458 this year - the biggest loss by a Cosatu affiliate.
In the report, the organisation noted it continued to be confronted by challenges of declining membership, particularly from industrial unions such as the National Union Mineworkers.
“We now have a challenge of unions with membership under 20000 and experience has taught us that such a union cannot be sustained.
“Congress will have to discuss and take a resolution based on an understanding that Cosatu is a home of all workers and that all workers should be organised under Cosatu,” the report said.
Satawu, the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union have been flagged as unions most rocked by instability as leaders remained at each other’s throats over control of the affiliates.
In Samwu, which currently has parallel structures, the federation accused the union’s leaders of fighting over the subscription of members.
“This includes, but is not limited to the extent to which many leaders have had to be investigated and face disciplinary action for corruption relating to looting the finances and resources of the union. In the final analysis, the common denominator in the challenges facing Samwu is money,” the report said.