Organization: Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) University of Western Cape
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Precarious Landscapes: Labour Restructuring and Trade Union Response in Western Cape Agriculture.
Based on intensive fieldwork research carried out on fruit and wine farms in the Western Cape province of South Africa, this paper examines the process of labour restructuring underway in commercial agriculture and the responses of trade unions. Job losses and labour market segmentation in agriculture have accelerated rapidly in recent years as the post-apartheid state dismantled regulatory structures, abolished subsidies and liberalized trade. The state’s pursuit of these neoliberal policies has significantly undermined its own labour legislation, which has allowed for the proliferation of atypical work arrangements. There is an increasing divide between permanent workers who have remained on farms and the precariously employed reserve armies of labour. Trade unions have largely failed to organize those precarious workers who constitute the majority of the province’s agricultural labour force. This paper situates this discussion within the broader literature on the agrarian question in the era of globalization, and examines the implications for future trade union strategy.