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Book Launch: Crossing the Divide: Precarious Work and the Future of Labour

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Crossing the Divide
Crossing the Divide

The Labour Studies Seminar Series, in partnership with UKZN Press, has launched “Crossing the Divide: Precarious Work and the Future of Labour ” edited by Edward Webster, Akua Opokua Britwum and Sharit Bhowmik.

Speaker: Prof Edward Webster
Date: Wednesday, 16th May 2018
Time: 4:15pm
Venue: Eden Grove Seminar Room 2

The series is run by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.


Massive, growing inequality marks twenty-first century neo-liberal capitalism. It is reinforced by widespread erosion of unions, the growth of home-based and precarious work, rising unemployment and the difficulty of organising sectors like agriculture and domestic work. Work-related insecurities and vulnerability induced by neo-liberalism affect massive numbers of people worldwide. “Crossing the Divide”, edited by leading labour scholars Akua O. Britwum (Ghana), Eddie Webster (South Africa) and the late Sharit Bhowmik (India), brings together a rich body of predominantly ethnographic studies of the experiences and resistance of vulnerable workers. Other contributors include Angela Akorsu, Owusa Boampong, Malati Gadgil, Indira Gartenberg, Carmen Ludwig, Mbuso Nkosi, Amanda Odoi, Melanie Samson, Benjamin Tachi, Mouleshri Vyas and Jesse Wilderman.

Together they uncover the world of the informal economy and vulnerable workers. “Crossing the Divide” reveals how the history and legacy of colonialism is shaping the response of the Global South in distinctive ways. Comparing precarious work in India, Ghana and South Africa, this book examines innovative organisational strategies that are emerging to bridge the widening divide between the formal and informal economy. Farm workers in Ghana, India and South Africa are challenging colonial-type work practices. Municipal workers in Johannesburg and Accra are organising. Workers in domestic service, unregulated factories and home-based work are engaging in creative strategies to fight for decent work and living conditions. Informal workers are not passive victims but are building new forms of collective solidarity to promote their rights and interests.


Eddie Webster is Professor Emeritus in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP), which he founded as the Sociology of Work Programme in 1983 at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). Generally regarded as the father of modern South African labour studies, and a Rhodes University graduate, his contributions span worker education, worker-focused research, union organising, university-based teaching, eight books and hundreds of papers and reports. Recipient of international awards and honorary appointments, a leading figure in national and international sociological associations, and the Global Labour University, he was recently awarded honorary doctorates by Rhodes University and Wits.

Akua Opokua Britwum is Associate Professor at the Centre for Gender Research, Advocacy and Documentation (CEGRAD) at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. Her publications cover gender-based violence, gender and economic participation, trade union democracy, and labour force organisation in the informal economy.

The late Professor Sharit Bhowmik was Chairperson of the Centre for Labour Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India. He engaged in labour studies throughout his working life, with a particular interest in plantation labour and informal work, and worked with generations of worker and union activists. Part of the Subgroup on Plantation Labour of the National Advisory Committee in India and the Expert Committee on Street Vendors in Mumbai, and an associate of Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), he passed away in 2016 and is greatly missed.