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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU workers survey

2 November 2005

COSATU will be twenty years old four weeks from now. As part of these celebrations COSATU is to conduct a survey of workers, union members and non-members, to get their views on the labour movement and how well it is meeting their needs. It will be conduct ed by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE), with support from our research institute NALEDI.

This, the first scientific, national survey of workers' needs and attitudes, will build on findings from recent smaller surveys and focus groups, including studies by the Sociology of Work Programme (SWOP) at Wits University. But this will be the first tha t is large enough to give us a systematic picture of workers' opinions.

It will cover a sample of 3000 workers in randomly chosen houses within randomly chosen working-class communities, to ensure an unbiased sample, which will be representative in terms of race and gender.

The survey is part of COSATU's 'listening' campaign. As we organise for the on-going mass action on jobs and poverty, we have deployed national office bearers across the country, to listen to workers in the workplace, workers' forums and communities, to ge t a better picture of our members' hopes, desires and needs.

With almost two million members, COSATU remains by far the largest union federation, with over half of all union members. But we cannot afford to be complacent. We face huge challenges, which have changed the conditions under which unions work.

Today our shop stewards and organisers, if they are to serve members properly, have to master complex legal skills. Many unions which grew very rapidly in the 1990s - doubling and tripling in size - have to work hard to consolidate this growth, and serve a nd educate their new members.

Trade unions' main purpose is to give workers collective power - in the workplace and their industries and in national policy debates. We must protect workers every day in negotiations over pay and benefits, in grievances and disciplinary cases. So we need to know how well we are meeting members' expectations in all these areas.

COSATU's principles of worker control and democracy ensure that our leaders basically know what their members want, but as in any large democratic system, communication may break down. The survey should help us check on what we learn in our daily interacti ons with members. Specifically it should help us understand:

  • Why some workers don't belong to a union - because they can't find one, a dislike of unions, or a past experience of poor service?

What union members want, and what they are getting, from the unions. What demands workers want us to prioritise and how they feel about their shop stewards and organisers. Do our systems function properly to empower and serve members?

We are asking:

  • Are national stayaways a good tool for the labour movement?
  • Do workers know how to contact their union? What response have they got when they called on organisers?
  • What do workers want their union to prioritise in workplace negotiations - pay, benefits, employment equity, HIV, or other issues?

The survey does have limitations. The sample size is fairly small, primarily due to financial limitations. We will only be able to work in larger urban areas, although in every province. We are excluding workers from micro-enterprises. Major groups will be excluded, including farm, domestic, taxi and informal workers. From next year, focus groups will probe the views of these critical and most oppressed sections of the working class.

The sample size also means we will be able to reach realistic conclusions only about national trends and in some larger metro areas. We will not be able to analyse the results for smaller towns, or for most occupations and industries.

With CASE and Naledi, COSATU will analyse the results from January 2006 and present the findings to our 9th National Congress in September. Since the results will certainly be useful for a host of organisations besides COSATU, we will make the database ava ilable to other researchers.