Solidarity with Robertson winery strikers grows even as bosses seek to arrest leaders

Local and international support for striking winery workers in Robetson is growing, even as management of the winery seek the arrest of the leadership of the strikers.

This weekend the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) formally pledged solidarity with the workers, who are entering the 8th week of their strike.

Joining a solidarity mark through the town of Robertson, AMCU President Josep Matunjwa praised the strikers for their determined struggle for a living wage. He said, “We cannot ignore the fact that the wealth of our land, both minerals and the food that it provides, does not benefit the poor. Those that work the land have nothing.”

The sleepy rural town came to life at the weekend with songs, colourful posters, banners, placards and shouts of “forward to a living wage” as close to 500 people joined the solidarity march. Strikers are demanding a living wage of R8500. Students, NGOs, small-scale farmer associations, farm workers unions, rural women and international supporters from Sweden, Denmark and Luxemburg participated in the action, organised by the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU), Mawubuye and Community and Workers Alliance.

Meanwhile in Cape Town this week, the owners of Robertson Winery will seek the arrest of the leadership of the striking workers. In an action to be heard in the Labour Court on Thursday, the owners allege that strikers are in contempt of a court order brought against them to ensure free flow of traffic into the winery plant and prevent intimidation of non-striking workers. The owners are asking the court to order the arrest of CSAAWU General Secretary Trevor Christians, Deputy General Secretary Karel Swart, shop stewards and members of the strike committee.

As the strike drags on, October will be the first month that the workers will receive no pay. Last month, only half of the wages and salaries were paid. Union spokesperson Trevor Christians praised the support that strikers have received from different quarters.

We have received regular food hampers from the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town and Women on Farms. Some students from the University of Cape Town have initiated a fundraising drive for the strikers, while the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) along with the Women’s Movement have been instrumental in setting up a Worker’s Solidarity Fund.”

We’ve received donations of baby milk and nappies, to support those strikers with babies and children. Local unions that expressed solidarity with us include NUMSA and the New Federation. Then we’ve also received support from workers and organisations in Sweden, Denmark, Belguim and Germany.”

What has been very important is support from the local community itself. The strikers among themselves, local communities in Robertson and surrounding areas, along with non-striking CSAAWU members have been collecting non-perishable foods for distribution to the strikers.”

Christians added, “All this support is so important to keep up our morale and determination. Since the start of the strike, no worker has dropped out and gone back to work yet. That’s always the danger in a strike.”

Union representatives and Winery management are due to return to wage negotiations next week and Wednesday.