CSAAWU Robertson Winery Strike: Rural Resistance in Racist Robertson

Robertson is a typical Western Cape rural town. As you drive into the town on the main road it is clear that this town still has a relatively vibrant economy. The roads are well kept and are flanked by standard fast food outlets and quaint boutique shops catering to the tourist trade. A little further down the road are the shinning wine and brandy processing plants that, along with tourism, drive the economy of the town… as you drive a bit further however… beyond the sparkling façade of the processing plants, comes the areas where the workers live. Whilst there have been attempts to develop housing, the severe under delivery of said housing can be seen as shack upon shack creep up the hillside creating a stark contrast to the sheen of rich side of town.  

Little change in 20 years

It is patently clear just from looking at the geographic layout and contrast between the white owned businesses and houses and black working class existence in this town, that very little has changed here in the last 20 years. You can feel it too, in the attitude of the people of the town, there is a very distinct feeling of repression in this (as in most) rural towns of this racially divided country.

 

It is in this atmosphere that the workers and officials of Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers’ Union (CSAAWU) are organising to try to drag this place into the 20th, let alone 21st Century. In this relatively affluent back water; discrimination, racism and inequality continue to be a way of life that is reflected in the spatial layout of the town, in attitudes on the streets and in workplace.

Conditions at Robertson Winery

One workplace in particular – Robertson Winery is finding itself at the centre of a rural battle for equality that has been 20 years in the making. In response to badly paying jobs, direct and indirect workplace discrimination and hostility towards workers belonging to the CSAAWU, the workers have gone on strike. 

At Robertson Winery, a general worker earns a monthly salary of between R2 900 and R3 300. Workers are demanding a living wage of R 8 500. Whilst the Winery is organised by CSAAWU, the winery and the farms that supply the factory with grapes have been openly hostile to union organisers. Workers are demanding that the union be granted access to meet with workers and that workers are guaranteed the right to freedom of association. Whilst there are international standards set for working conditions (Including the right to Freedom of Association and Collective bargaining) in the winery not all the standards are met, even when the workplace is audited. Workers are demanding a joint monitoring committee to ensure these standards are in place. 

The strike

The strike has been a long and hard battle which is now well into its second month. Characterised by an incredibly hostile approach by Robertson Winery management who refused to meet at the negotiations table until ordered to do so by the Council for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), bussed in scab labour and filed a court interdict against union leadership in an attempt to have them arrested – the judge did not grant the interdict, he declared the strike was of national importance and ruled that the CCMA must send a high delegation to assist the parties to help resolve the dispute.

The arrogance of both winery and farm owners and management has also provoked the wrath of international consumers in Sweden where the government run alcohol monopoly Systembolaget and the South African ethical label WIETA have come under scrutiny as bad working conditions and racism in the Winery and on the farms has been exposed. Messages of Solidarity from all over the world have been coming in via social media and a petition from International Trade Union Federation IUF has received over 7 000 signatures.

This struggle will have broad implications for rural South Africa, if it is won it will send the message that workers will no longer tolerate Apartheid oppression and will be the beginning of real transformation. 

This has been a very long strike. If you would like to show solidarity you can do so by liking the CSAAWU Face Book page https://www.facebook.com/vivacsaawu/ sharing messages of support and if you are able you could contribute to the CSAAWU solidarity fund:

Account Name: Workers Solidarity Fund Task Team

Account Number:073576093

Bank:Standard Bank

Branch:Rondebosch - 051 001

Reference: Robertson