Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)

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2010

19 January: (Congress of South African Trade Unions) COSATU affiliate The Food and Allied Workers' Union (FAWU) entered their third week of striking for a wage of increase of 9,5 percent. The union also wanted Coca-Cola advertisment to be isolated from general advertising for the 2010 soccer World Cup.

11 July: In the aftermath of the 2010 soccer World Cup COSATU launched its post-World Cup declaration. South Africa needed to come together, as they had during the world cup, and tackle the challenges the country was facing. The second part of the statement promoted soccer as a national sport. The sport is the most popular in the country yet, because of racial politics, under-funded and developed by the state.

18 August: An estimated 1,2 million public sector workers went on strike demanding a wage increase of 8,6 percent and a R1 000 a month housing allowance.

1 September: COSATU affiliate National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (NUMSA) embarks on a strike against the retail motor industry. The union accepted a three year agreement where the workers would get a 10 percent increase the first year, and a 9 percent wage increase the following two years.

6 September: After 18 days the largest strike since 2007, in lost working days, ended with negotiations between unions and the government continuing.

25 November: COSATU started its 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. The idea behind the campaign is that all union affiliates empower communities and join in the struggle against gender-based violence.

5 December: COSATU celebrates its 25th anniversary as a trade union federation.

2011

16 – 18 May: During the 2011 municipal elections COSATU spends about R2 million campaigning for the ANC. After a decline in the vote towards the ANC, General secretary of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi warns the Tripartite Alliance that they cannot take the peoples votes for granted.

17 – 20 September: The 4th COSATU Central committee meeting resolved to focus recruitment and organising efforts on rural, casualised and sub-contracted workers. This would in earnest launch COSATU's campaign against outsourcing and labour brokering. The committee also advocated for steering ANC policy towards the promises of the Freedom Charter and the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP).

13 December: COSATU and various civil society organisations unite to march against corruption.

2012

7 March: COSATU stages various protest marches against labour brokering and against e-tolling of roads. An estimated 50,000 people marched in Johannesburg, and about 30,000 participated in a march in Cape Town. Smaller protest marches were staged across the country with some estimates stating that 200,000 people participated in total.

16 April: COSATU issued a notice under section 77 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) for workers to be able to engage in various types of protest action such as rallies and marches at or near South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) offices as well as the Department of Labour, both provincial and nationally against e-tolling. SANRAL is a South African parastatal responsible for the management, maintenance and development of South Africa's national road network.

27 – 29 March: 150 delegates from various COSATU affiliates gather for the COSATY National gender conference. The conference resolved to build gender activism, incorporate women's struggles into COSATU programs, and strengthen existing network with young female activists.

10 August: Rock drillers in the Marikana mine initiated a strike without the support of majority union, and COSATU affiliate, National Union of Mineworkers SA (NUM).

16 August: After several violent incidents between mineworkers and police in which 9 mineworkers and 2 police officers were killed, police officers open fire on a large assembly of striking miners. 34 mineworkers is killed and about 78 wounded in what becomes known as the “Marikana massacre”. NUM's refusal to support, and in one instance violence against, striking workers led to a massive loss off members to rival union Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). This made NUMSA the largest COSATU affiliated union.

Left to right: Vavi (Cosatu secretary general), Jacob Zuma (SA and ANC president) and Sidumo Dlamini (Cosatu president) at Cosatu's 11th National Congress Source: www.dailymaverick.co.za

27 August 2012: The Western Cape experience the largest strike of farmworkers ever recorded, much of the striking workers are represented by independently formed workers committees. COSATU together with its affiliated unions such as the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) and non-governmental organisations and lobby groups support the farm workers strike, and announce a campaign of embarking on mass action in support of the demand to raise the minimum wage for farm workers to R150 a day from of R69.

11 – 20 September: COSATU held its 11th national congress. The congress resolved to work towards the banning of labour brokers and towards a living wage for all workers. The top leadership of COSATU is re-elected unopposed. General secretary  Zwelinzima  Vavi called for a “Lula moment”, in a reference the former president of Brazil - who came from the trade unions and became president - Lula da Silva. Some commentors see this as a veiled threat towards South African President Jacob Zuma, who was standing for re-election as ANC president that same year.

2013

Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of COSATU at that time, was investigated for alleged financial impropriety regarding the sale of the older COSATU building in Braamfonteing, Johannesburg.

He was also compromised by an affair with a 26-year-old COSATU female employee who claimed Vavi offered her a job at the COSATU office without following proper recruitment procedures. He was accused of having sex with the woman, a subordinate, in her office at COSATU’s Braamfontein offices in January 2013. Vavi claimed the affair was consensual.

August: COSATU’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) held a meeting about Vavi’s affair with a female junior employee. Vavi was suspended. He was put on indefinite special leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing relating to the affair. Vavi had three complaints about that meeting: delegates at the CEC did not vote; consequently no decision was taken; and thirdly, he was not given a right to be heard.

October: COSATU protests the Employment Tax Incentive Bill which was published by the South African National Treasury on September 2013, urging that the  tax incentives proposed are likely to have serious adverse implications for both subsidised and unsubsidised workers. Including, amongst others: Displacing of unsubsidised workers, facilitating a multi-tiered labour market in respect of both wages, benefits and overall employment conditions, and imposing a downward pressure on wage bargaining.

September: The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) backed Vavi following his suspension from COSATU. NUMSA, a COSATU affiliate, instituted court proceedings to get him reinstated. Other unions that supported Vavi were: the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU). They asked the special CEC not to suspend Vavi.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU), the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (NEHAWU) and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) called for tough action against Vavi.

16 - 20 December: NUMSA held a special national congress in Boksburg, a city on the East Rand of Gauteng Province, where the union took the decision not to support the ANC during the 2014 general elections. This was despite being an affiliate of COSATU, which as an alliance partner had pledged support to the ANC in their 2012 conference. The union stated that any member and shop steward was entitled to campaign for any political party.

2014

12 February: Vavi announced his intention to sue COSATU and Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo, an auditing firm, for defamation, after the release of a damning report against him. The report by the auditors found irregularities relating to the purchase of the new COSATU building and the sale of the old building. Vavi consulted with his lawyers to determine what course of action to take against both the firm and COSATU.

March: Suspended COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi took his employers, COSATU, to the High Court in Johannesburg over his suspension.

4 April: The high court in Johannesburg set aside the suspension of COSATU General secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapela declared COSATU’s decision to suspend Vavi invalid and instructed the federation to set aside the suspension.

7 April: Vavi returned to work following a court ruling which overturned his suspension by COSATU.  Just after Vavi returned to work, a special COSATU CEC meeting was held where the task team negotiated an agreement between COSATU, Vavi, and some union affiliates.

April: an African National Congress (ANC) task team, led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, was formed to help solve problems within COSATU. The task team presented its interim report to the CEC meeting. The report presented a summary of what COSATU affiliates identified as problems in the union federation. The task team met COSATU national office bearers as well as its individual affiliates at 26 meetings.

18 October: COSATU organised the campaign against electronic tolling (E-tolls), and the march has emerged as yet another sticking point dividing the federation’s warring leaders. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) on behalf of its 349 000 members fully supported the rolling mass action.

8 November: At a meeting that ran late into the night, delegates from COSATU voted 33 to 24 in favour of expelling NUMSA. NUMSA requested a court order to stop the Central Executive Committee meeting from going ahead. But the South Gauteng High court decided to postpone NUMSA’s application. NUMSA was then expelled from COSATU.

NUMSA was expelled for contravening COSATU’s Constitution. The expulsion was based on resolutions taken at NUMSA’s special congress in December 2013 when it took the decision not to support the ANC in the 2014 general elections.

December: NUMSA announced it would challenge its expulsion from COSATU in court.

2015

March: The secretary general of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi, was expelled at a special central executive committee meeting held in Johannesburg, Gauteng Province. The decision to expel Vavi followed a vote by a special central executive committee meeting


References:
• Booyson, Susan. 2012. Local Elections in South Africa: Parties, People, Politics. Sun Press.
•  COSATU. 2011. “Declaration of the 4th Central Committee” held in Kempton Park, Esselen Park on the 17 – 20 September. http://www.cosatu.org.za/docs/resolutions/2011/resolutions4.pdf
•  http://mg.co.za/article/2010-08-18-strike-on-as-unions-reject-govt-wage-... (Accessed on the 20.10.2015)
•  http://www.cosatu.org.za/show.php?ID=4380 (Accessed on the 20.10.2015)
•  http://mg.co.za/article/2010-09-16-numsa-strike-against-retail-motor-ind... (Accessed on the 20.10.2015)
•  http://mg.co.za/article/2013-11-21-cosatu-rifts-may-impact-on-ancs-elect... (Accessed on the 20.10.2015)
•  http://english.cntv.cn/program/newsupdate/20120308/106602.shtml (Accessed on the 21.10.2015)
•  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/03/201237961752372.html (Accessed on the 21.10.2015)

Last updated : 27-Oct-2015

This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Apr-2015