NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Cosatu: Cosatu turns 20!

29 November 2005, Posted in News


Where are your ancestors?Lalelani and witness:Here is the mammoth creatureYou dreamed ofYou wanted to createThe one you hoped forHere is the workers’ Freedom train!

It is made up of old wagonsRepaired and patched up ox-cartsRolling on the road againBack againRevived!Once capsized by ChampionThe wagon – once derailed by Kadalie

Here it rolls aheadTo settle account with the oppressorsTo settle account with the exploiters.Here it is:The tornado-snake – Inkhanyamba with its floods!Its slippery torso!Here it is CosatuThe spears of menShall be deflected.

Here it is:The tornado-snake of change! Inkhanyamba,The cataclysm Clammed for decades and decades.

By a mountain of rules.The tornado-snakePoisoned throughout the yearsBy ethnicityAnd tribalism.

Here is the mammoth creatureWhich they mocked!That it had no head!And certainly no teeth

Woe unto you oppressorWoe unto you exploiter

We have rebuilt its headWe lathed its teeth on our machinesThe day this head risesBeware of the day these teeth shall bite.

On that day:Mountains of lies shall be torn to shredsThe gates of apartheid shall be burst asunderThe history books of deception shall be thrown out

Woza langaWoza federationWoza freedom

(an extract from “˜The Tears of a Creator’ written specially for the Kings Park launch of Cosatu by worker poets, Mi Hlatshwayo and Alfred Temba Qabula)

How Cosatu has grownFrom November 29 to December 1, 870 delegates from all over South Africa met in Durban at the first Congress of Cosatu.At that time it represented 33 trade unions with a paid-up membership of 449 679. While the trade unions that joined Cosatu differed in political outlook and in how they organised trade unions, these five common principles brought them together:


Worker control

Paid-up membership

One industry, one union – one country, one federation

International worker solidarity.

Only the National Union of Mineworkers (Num) broke ranks with its black consciousness federation, Cusa, to join Cosatu. The remaining Cusa affiliates now belong to Nactu.Twenty years later, Cosatu has grown to 1.7 million members with 21 affiliates and still adheres to these common principles. But its dreams of ‘one country one federation’ still need to be met. And with Fedusa and Nactu now talking about merging, these dreams might still remain dreams.

What I remember:”I remember arriving very early in the morning to attend the inaugural congress at the University of Natal in Durban. We were very tired after the long trip. There was nowhere for us to sleep so we got out our blankets and put them down on the pavement and slept!” Thembi Nabe, then general secretary of Mawu, now travel administrator, Numsa head office.

“I remember going to the rally at Kings Park and hearing the new Cosatu president, Elijah Barayi, telling PW Botha that now that wokers of this country have united, he must resign.”Herman Ntlatleng, then shop steward at Ford, Pretoria, now auto sector coordinator, Numsa head office.

What Ramaphosa told congress delegates:”As unions we have influenced the wider political struggle. Our struggles on the shopfloor have widened the space for struggles in the community. Through interaction with community organisations, we have developed the principle of worker controlled democratic organisation. But our main political task as workers is to develop organisation among workers as well as a strong worker leadership. We have, as unions, to act decisively to ensure that we, as workers, lead the struggle.Our most urgent task is to develop a unity among workers. We would wish Cosatu to give firm political direction for workers. If workers are to lead the struggle for liberation we have to win the confidence of other sectors of society. But if we are to get into alliances with other progressive organisations, it must be on our terms that are favourable to us as workers.

Diary of events to celebrate 20 years of CosatuIf you want to take part in historic events to mark Cosatu’s 20th birthday, read below…

November 19

Labour law – then and now. 10h00 – 15h00, University of Zululand, Empangeni

November 24

Decent Work – 10h00 – 15h00; Winston Churchill Hall, Msunduzi Municipality

November 26

Cosatu and Alliances – 10h00 – 15h00, Durban

December 3

Cosatu and culture – 10h00 – 15h00, BAT Centre Durban

December 4

Mass rally – Kings Park, Durban. Contact your Cosatu provincial office for special accommodation, transport packages to attend the rally.

Some of the trade unions that attended the inaugural congress

Name of trade union

Paid up members

1. Amalgamated Black Workers Union


2. Cape Town Municipal Workers Association

11 097

3. Chemical Workers Industrial Union

20 700

4. Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union

50 345

5. Food and Canning Workers Union

26 455

6. General and Allied Workers Union

19 076

7. General Workers Union

10 000

8. General Workers Union of SA

2 205

*9. Metal and Allied Workers Union

36 789

*10. Motor Assembly and Component Workers Union of SA

3 100

11. Municipal Workers Union of SA

9 249

*12. National Automobile and Allied Workers Union

20 338

13. National Federation of Workers

11 551

14. National Iron Steel Metal Workers Union


15. National Union of Mineworkers

100 000

16. National Union of Textile Workers

23 241

17. Paper Wood and Allied Workers Union

11 856

18. Retail and Allied Workers Union

3 830

19. South African Allied Workers Union

25 032

20. South African Domestic Workers Association

4 500

21. SA Mineworkers Union

3 029

22. SA Railways and Harbours Union

8 220

23. SA Scooter Transport and Allied Workers Union

4 700

24. SA Textile and Allied Workers Union

1 900

25. SA Tin Workers Union


26. Sweet Food and Allied Workers Union

19 596

27. Transport and General Workers Union

11 000

*28. United Mining Metal and Allied Workers of SA

8 335

* = these trade unions merged in 1987 to form Numsa. Members from other general unions gave their ‘metal’ members to Numsa.