About Our History

Rachel “Ray” Alexander-Simons

In 1941, the Food and Canning Workers’ Union was founded by Rachel “Ray” Alexander-Simons and other unionists to fight for the rights of oppressed workers in apartheid South Africa. Ray, together with political stalwarts like Oscar Mpetha, Liz Abrahams and Frances Baard organised and mobilised the food, canning and farm workers in the Boland area as well as fishing workers on the West Coast of Cape Town.
Comrade Ray hailed from Latvia in the Soviet Union and was passionate about communist and socialist principles. She believed in workers’ unity and the use of labour’s collective power to acquire better wages and working conditions. Ray taught workers the importance of working together to achieve better wages and working conditions. With her and other union leaders, FCWU made name as a militant union fighting for workers’ rights and it was about 25 000 members strong in the early 1940’s and 50’s.
The Daljosaphat and Huguenot branches were formed in Paarl in 1941. The union was on the forefront of organising workers to strike against the Coloured Representative Bill. In January 1954, the union led a strike in Wolseley for higher wages and better working conditions resulting in a Wage Determination for the fish canning industry. At the time, there were constant strikes in the fishing hamlets and areas such as Namaqualand, Worcester, Montaque, Wellington, Paarl and Lamberts’ Bay. The Fatti’s and Moni’s strike of 1976 and the accompanying consumer boycott was a major victory for workers in term of higher wages and better working conditions. As word of this successful strike spread, the union’s reputation grow and more workers started joining the organisation as they witnessed its successes. Dr. Neil Aggett mobilised workers in the then Transvaal areas while Francis Baard organised workers into the union in the Eastern Cape area. In 1942, all the branches in the country decided to form a national union, the FCWU.
  • Apartheid Era

During apartheid, the union operated as “two” i.e. the African Food and Canning Workers’ Union
and the FCWU because of segregation laws at the time. Solidarity was evident between the two
“branches” of the union as they operated as one divided by name only.

  • Workers Unity Merge

Workers unity in the food and beverage sector was key and in May 1986 the Sweet Food and Allied
Workers’ Union, Retails and Allied Workers Union, General and Allied Workers’ Union and Food and
Canning Workers’ Union merged to form the Food and Allied Workers’ Union as it is known today.

  • Anti-Apartheid Stalwarts

The union produced well-known anti-apartheid stalwarts including Liz Abrahams, Elizabeth
Mafikeng, Oscar Mpetha, Frank Marquard, Frances Baard, Lizzie Phike, Chris Dlamini, Neil Aggett and
many other struggle stalwarts from the ANC, UDF, SACP and other political organisations of South
Africa. Some was elected as National office-bearers in the South African Congress of Trade Unions,
United Democratic Front, in the African National Congress and the Federation of South African
Women.

FAWU was a founding member of the Federation of South African Trade unions established in 1979 as well as SA Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) in 1955. The union broke away from COSATU in 2013 to become an affiliate of the South African Federation of Trade Unions.
FAWU remains militant, resilient and continues to fight for workers’ rights through collective bargaining, campaigns and representation of workers at the CCMA and the Labour Court. It remains our mission to protect and defend these hard-won rights as laid out in South African labour laws.
FAWU remains militant, resilient and continues to fight for workers’ rights through collective bargaining, campaigns and representation of workers at the CCMA and the Labour Court. It remains our mission to protect and defend these hard-won rights as laid out in South African labour laws.
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Ray Alexander Simons

Ray Alexander Simons was a South African communist, anti-apartheid activist, campaigner and trade unionist who helped draft the Women's Charter. She moved to Cape Town in 1929 to escape the persecution of Jews and communists.
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F.A.W.U - Food

Our aim is to Represent workers in SA agriculture industry with the highest standards that they deserve in the working environment.

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