/ 1 July 2011

Union grows through white-collar members

Cosatu’s membership has grown 3.8% since 2007, but its secretariat report shows that it was mainly owed to an increase in the membership of its public-service unions.

The report confirmed the shift in Cosatu’s class composition towards an increasing representation of state employees, many of them in white-collar jobs. The federation has close to 850 000 members in the state and municipal sectors, about 41% of its total membership, but this represented a growth of more than 100 000 since 2007.

Presented to the central committee by general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, the secretariat report said membership rose from 1.8-million in 2007 to 2.07-million last year. It indicated that the numbers could be higher — unions declined to release true ­figures because it would increase affiliation fees.

The report showed that the National Union of Mineworkers remained Cosatu’s largest affiliate with 272 000 members, but there was a decline of 2 500 members since 2007. The NUM has been in long-term decline because South Africa’s mining industry has contracted.

Other private-sector unions to show declining numbers since 2007 included the commercial workers’ union Saccawu, down 13 000 members to 115 488, and the clothing and textile workers’ union Sactwu, sharply down by almost 20 000 since 2008. The clothing and textiles industry faces crippling competition from Asian producers.

The report pointed out that the membership figures of affiliates in mining, clothing and construction were unlikely to be accurate because these unions recorded no change between 2009 and this year.

One industrial union that bucked the trend in a significant way was the metalworkers’ union Numsa, which grew 21%, from 217 000 in 2007 to 263 000 this year. The growth is ascribed to an improved membership system in the motor industry and last year’s motor industry strike, which added 7 000 members.

But the biggest gains were in the central state and municipal sectors. Prisons union Popcru registered the largest percentage jump in membership 33.99% from 105 000 to 141 000, and health workers’ union Nehawu grew 16.83%, from 215 000 to 251 000. Municipal union Samwu grew by 14%, from 119 000 to 136 000, and teachers’ union Sadtu added 7.1%, from about 230 000 to about 247 000.

The report also said membership losses occurred mostly between January 2009 and May 2010, and were largely owed to retrenchments.