The Congress of South African Trade Unions, a massive union federation launched in 1985. At the time it represented around 500,000 mostly black workers in 33 separate unions; today it claims to have nearly two million paid-up members. Its founding principles were non-racialism, worker control, financial self-sufficiency through paid-up membership, unity ("one industry, one union -- one country, one federation") and international worker solidarity.

Cosatu was one of the most potent anti-apartheid forces inside South Africa during the late 1980s. The African National Congress and many other political movements were banned and its leadership was either in prison or in exile; the unions, along with church and student movements, stepped in to fill the vacuum. The combination of internal and external pressures for change finally led to the unbanning of the ANC and others, including the South African Communist Party, in 1991.

Since then Cosatu has co-operated with the ANC and SACP in an often uneasy "tripartite alliance": the three organisations, although independent, have significant crossover membership and some senior Cosatu officials have been "redeployed" to the ANC to serve as Members of Parliament. The union movement has been weakened by the loss of some its sharpest people either to government or to business, but it still wields considerable influence -- especially via the National Economic Development and Labour Council, or NEDLAC. NEDLAC is a forum in which representatives of the government, labour and business along with other "social partners" debate economic and labour-related policy.

Cosatu has an excellent website at

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