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COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions)

Franco Barchiesi


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The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was launched in Durban on November 30, 1985 with approximately 450,000 members in 33 affiliated unions. It is South Africa's largest union federation, with a membership of 1.7 million in 2007 and 21 industrial affiliates. The birth of COSATU took place in a context of growing black working-class militancy, which, starting in the early 1970s, ended a decade characterized by the repression of anti-apartheid political movements and the decline of labor organizations. The 1973 strikes in the Durban industrial area led to the formation of black workers' unions independent of the racially segregated system of labor representation. Independent unions rapidly spread to the country's main manufacturing concentrations, largely organizing African migrant workers, and by the late 1970s they had started various national federations, most notably the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU), launched in 1979. FOSATU combined a socialist orientation, an analysis of the South African society centered on class exploitation rather than racial oppression, and a focus on workplace organizing. It emphasized non-racialism, industrial unionism, rank-and-file workers' leadership, and political independence from liberation movements like the African National Congress (ANC) and the United Democratic Front (UDF). The government's initial repression ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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