The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is a trade union federation in South Africa. It was founded in 1985 and is the biggest of the country’s three main trade union federations, with 21 affiliated trade unions, altogether organising 1.8 million workers.
COSATU was established in 1985 following unity talks between competing unions and federations. At its launch it represented less than half a million workers organised in 33 unions, but saw rapid growth in its early years. Elijah Barayi was the organisation’s first president and served until 1991. Other key leaders included Jay Naidoo and Cyril Ramaphosa. COSATU played a leading role in the struggle against apartheid, organising a range of highly effective wage strikes and also general strikes and mobilising support in factories and towns across the country. The most authoritative account of its early years is a book called Striking Back, written by a former COSATU leader Jeremy Baskin and covering the period from 1985 until the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.