History of CSAAWU 


CSAAWU was born in 2007 in the heart of the rural areas in the Western Cape, South Africa. A place well known for historical slavery back on farms as well as in other related sectors along the value chain. Here we mean the distilleries, pack houses and canning factories.

The founding members  of CSAAWU identified that there is a need from farm workers and those in the agricultural sector where Workers still live and work in slave conditions.

In the early CSAAWU started in the Ladismith region (350 km from Cape Town).

CSAAWU had since then  began to mobilize farm workers, winery workers  and all rural workers in the Langeberg,Overberg , Kannaland and the Metro of Cape Town. However the main focus was in the three rural districts.

In the period 2010-2011 CSAAWU togther with the TCOE and Mawubuye organised a series of “ Speak-outs”- this was a public space where the rural poor, but especially farm workers and farmdwellers could come and speak out about their hardships, their problems and the issue that they were concerned about.

Together 6 speak outs were organised reaching over 3000 rural poor citizens. This laid the basis on which we developed a list of common demands.

In 2011 Csaawu shop steward council adopted the 23 Demands of farm workers.  These demands became part of our strategic plan to free farm workers from this slave working and living conditions on farms.

In 2012 early November the De Doorns farm worker uprising started around the living and working conditions. One of the key demands was R150.00 PER DAY. This also became our demand.

Workers across the Western Cape embarked on the strike and as a result csaawu and its members participated in the strike.  

CSAAWU was able to join the strike and with the support of TCOE, we formed a Farm Worker Coalition that assisted us to coordinate common actions, strategise and build solidarity. This was very important as it helped us to use the media and also publise what was happening.

The bosses and the government didn’t sit still there was a huge police presence some of our members were arrested, assaulted and three farm workers in Wolsely were killed during that struggle and some of them spent three –four months in jail. 

After the strike the bosses took revenge on CSAAWU and others. We saw mass dismissals/ illegal evictions. It appeared as though they were targeting shop-stewards and wanted to get rid of the leadership on farms. The farmers ,believe when there is no leadership the rest of the workers will be afraid. For them it was about putting the fear back in the farm workers so that they can remain slaves.

There is no understanding of the importance of meaningful labour relations.

 Csaawu at that time had no choice but to defend the dismissed and evicted workers. By that time there was hundreds of evictions and dismissals from farms. Csaawu was kept in the courts for more than two years. In the labour court Csaawu was issued with two cost orders nearly R1 million,accusing The union of being negligence when we participated in the strike. We than took the matters up to the constitutional court where it was dismissed.  This situation nearly crippled Csaawu, we started a campaign with the support of TCOE again “keep the doors of CSAAWU open”. They assisted with fundraising to support legal costs. The sherif of court was at the office to claim the property of Csaawu.

At this point we also started the Rural Legal Centre to support rural workers and the community. This was a joint action with TCOE, Mawubuye and CSAAWU.

The “ keep CSAAWU doors open”  campaign was not only to rise urgent funds but also to ensure  that we build hope and resistance and to keep hope of Farm workers alive.

At our first report back meeting to the shop steward council, when we informed the comrades that Csaawu may close the doors…. These workers vowed to ensure that they will do everything in the power to see the doors of CSAAWU remain open. At that meeting workers put their  hands deep in the pockets and donate money from the little that they have. They had collected at that time R1300.00 from 60 shop stewards at that meeting. And this fundraising continued after wards to ensure that the doors of Csaawu remain open.

These actions have ensured that Csaawu’s  doors remained  open.

The 2012-2013  strike was a major step towards replacing the dignity of farm workers in the rural areas. Workers had previously seen or believed that they are the property of farmers.

Since then we have strengthened CSAAWU. Together with TCOE we have meetings to plan, coordinate and develop work jointly.

TCOE supports the work to extend the rights to the farms, we show documentaries, raise awareness and organise educational workshops for shop-stewards. 

In 2016 this year 220 employees joined csaawu from Robertson Winery a major empire in the wine industry. With csaawu’s arrival at the company, we were overloaded with many grievances of workers. They were complaining about the working conditions and living conditions while working for the company. Some of their complaints are:

  • The racist practise of the company.

  • The three clock system, which applies only to black employees in the company.

  • The 20 min brake time they get per day to go to toilet and doing they personal stuff.

  • The rooted inequality between black employees and white employees.

  • Low wages

  • Lack of transformation

These were a few of the 25 demands that workers put on the table.

After several attempts to negotiate in good faith with the company, the company choose to force the CCMA to issue the legal certificate so that the employees can go on strike. The words of the company were “issue them the certificate we are ready for war” I still remember the words clearly. So Csaawu and the members were forced into that 14 weeks strike.

Workers had no choice because they are desperate for change and aggrieved by the manner in which the company treated them. Workers had stood united these past 14 weeks organized themselves and were willing to fight for what they want. Our strategy is to organize all cellar workers farm workers into Csaawu so that we can be united like never ever before. This we know is not an easy task, but workers are willing to organize themselves…

  • After 14 weeks workers retreated and settled for an R400.00 or  8% whatsoever are the greatest.

  • No worker will be disciplinary charged for misconduct.

On the role of TCOE:

The TCOE is a partner in many different ways.

1. They assist us to raise resources, farm workers struggle to pay fees. Also bosses don’t send the fees or do deductions. So CSAAWU has little money.

2. Assist and support the work with migrant workers.

3. The RLC assists us to have greater impact and helps us to recruit workers.

4. TCOE leads some of the paralegal work, awareness raising and particularly work to bring more women into CSAAWU.

5. TCOE leads the solidarity work, linking us to international friends such as NPA etc.

6. They do the research (WIETA) etc that assists us to campaign.

7. Finally, TCOE supports campaigns such as Open the door etc.