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

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Dr Nicolas Pons-Vignon presented his paper titled Caught in the grip of the market: past and present of rural wage workers in South Africa on 24 August 2016 as part of the Labour Studies Seminar series, which is run by Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.

Dr. Pons-Vignon is the Editor of the Global Labour Column and a Senior Researcher and Acting Director of the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID) Programme in the School of Economic and Business Sciences (SEBS) at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is a well-known heterodox economist who has contributed to a number of key analyses of the South African and wider African political economy, and who is actively engaged in the development of a global network of researchers in the field of labour studies. 

Dr. Pons-Vignon asked what is the condition of black rural workers in South Africa today? His examination of their situation, focused on the forestry sector. He provided a historical account of the formation of a rural proletariat in South Africa through the violent destruction of the African peasant economy, and the impact of successive forms of capitalist restructuring. Post-apartheid policy choices and the forms of worker struggles today have left these workers in all but invisible lives of exploitation and precarity. Using an inductive approach to examining the dynamics in the forestry sector using an inductive approach, Dr Pons-Vignon demonstrated a tremendous casualisation of the life and work of forestry workers. This is linked to the restoration of capitalist and employer power through market means, leading to a situation where profits, not wages, are a fixed variable.

Nicolas and Friends

From Left to Right: Dr Michael Rogan, Dr John Reynolds, Dr Nicole Ulrich and Dr Nicolas Pons-Vignon