The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, SATAWU, was formed in 2000 after a series of negotiations and smaller scale mergers by unions in the transport industry. SATAWU organises workers in the transport sector as well as security and cleaning companies. The sectors include railways, harbours, parastatals, aviation, passenger transport (buses and taxis) freight (trucking), contract, cleaning and security.
The formation of SATAWU resulted from mergers between transport unions in response to the call by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) for ‘one industry, one country, one federation’ COSATU believed that if all unions merged and worked together they would be more powerful and therefore be in a better position to bargain.
However the attempts to unite all federations under one umbrella failed. COSATU only managed to have the different trades uniting to form industry unions, for example, the transport industry coming under one umbrella, SATAWU. The merger to form one transport union took place in two stages. The first being the formation of SATAWU from a merger between the South African Railways and Harbours Workers’ Union (SARHWU) with a membership of 35 000, the Black Transnet Allied Trade Union (BLATU) with a membership of 6 324, and Transnet Allied Trade Union (TATU) with a membership of 1 324. At this stage the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) with its membership of approximately 50 000 or more was not part of the merger due to a number of issues on which the union did not agree with SARHWU.
The merger of these unions was not an easy one and consequently, it took years to actually reach the stage that it is in today. The initial steps towards the merger were taken in the mid-1980s but the actual merger started in December 1998 when Transnet unions heeded COSATU’s call of uniting all transport unions to form one industry union. The unions which at the time were formed of members working for Transnet included the SARHWU, BLATU and TATU. These unions which had a joint membership of 47 000 workers, merged to form the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU).
TGWU was expected to join SATAWU in June 1999 but the merger was delayed due to some disagreements between SATAWU and TGWU. After countless talks and negotiations. SATAWU (then made up by SARHWU & BLATU) & TGWU finally reached common ground. On the 18th of May 2000 the new SATAWU was launched comprising of the former SATAWU & the TGWU, bringing together public & private sector transport, cleaning and security under one united union.