About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.


Some of the major campaigns of COSATU over the past decade include the following:

Living wage campaign - During 1987, Cosatu members were the only workers to win wage increases above inflation rate. This was not based on the goodwill of employers, but based on the struggles of our members. This campaign remains relevant as we attempt to eliminate the wage gap between senior management and workers, men and women, and between skilled and unskilled workers - the majority of whom are black or women.

LRA - In September 1987, PW Botha's government, at the request of employers, proposed amendments to the then Labour Relations Act (LRA). The amendments sought to emasculate the growing union movement and undermine the gains made by workers since the 1970s. In 1988, millions of workers stayed away from work to press for the reversal of the changes despite the threat of dismissals by employers.

In the end we had the last laugh when the regime agreed to the proposed changes in 1990. Later in both the constitution and the LRA we secured more rights for workers. The constitution and the LRA which was piloted by the ANC and opposed by the NP, DP, IFP and the FF has been heralded as one of the most progressive in the world. The struggle for the new LRA saw President Mandela join thousands of workers in Johannesburg to press home the demands.

May Day is ours - On 1 May 1886, American workers organised by the International Workers of the World marched in support of an eight-hour day. This started an international tradition of observing a workers' holiday that continues to this day. By 1986, the tradition had been observed for 100 years.

While COSATU was barely six months old, May Day celebrations in South Africa that year were the biggest ever, with huge rallies all over the country. South African workers had embraced the day as their own. The fact that it is today part of our public holidays, is due to COSATU members.

VAT - Cosatu's anti-VAT campaign in 1991 had far-reaching effects. Apart from winning certain short-term demands, it established labour's right to have a say on macro-economic issues. The campaign was a good example of the power and success of alliances on single issues. Groups as diverse as welfare organisations, doctors' associations and small business organisations were galvanised into action by COSATU.

Constitution - COSATU has played a major role in South Africa's transition to democracy. We were in the trenches as members of the ANC, SACP and civics to bring about the current dispensation. From the drawing up of the RDP to the adoption of the new Constitution, we have ensured that the interests of the working class are central to the broader development strategy. A major victory was won around the exclusion of the lock-out clause in the Constitution, after a hard battle led by COSATU. Despite employers' attempt to get the Constitutional Court to reverse it, the court ruled that the right to strike is a fundamental human right while the lock-out is not.

Basic Conditions of Employment Act - This Act is a major victory for the South African working class particularly the most vulnerable - women, domestic and farmworkers. There are numerous areas where the lives of workers will fundamentally improve, including working hours, maternity leave, child labour etc. These successes were again in large part due to the systematic campaign run by COSATU as well as the Alliance resolve to bring about real changes in the workplace.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.