Caught in the grip of the market: past and present of rural wage workers in South Africa

Pons-Vignon, Nicolas (2015) Caught in the grip of the market: past and present of rural wage workers in South Africa. In: Oya, Carlos and Pontara, Nicolas, (eds.) Rural wage employment in developing countries: Theory, evidence and policy. Routledge, London. ISBN 9781315735085

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Abstract

This chapter focuses on the restructuring of the South African forestry sector which presents an extreme case of labour casualization. Outsourcing has put workers under unbearable stress – not only of reproduction, but also the assertion of their own dignity, as they are deprived of individual instruments of resistance to exploitation. To understand why tension between employers and workers is so high, it is crucial to analyse the evolution of historically paternalistic labour relations in agriculture and forestry. It is also important to recognize the growing hierarchical dominance of agricultural and forestry value chains by downstream buyers, and the implication this is having on workers who have historically been voiceless. The central contention of this chapter is that the violence associated with the proletarianization of black South Africans has transformed but not decreased. If anything, the current corporate-driven economic coercion under which workers are buckling offers fewer possibilities for contestation than the easily identified apartheid state.

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