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Precarious Class Formations in the United States and South Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2016

Marcel Paret
Affiliation:
The University of Utah and the University of Johannesburg

Abstract

Recent scholarship highlights the global expansion of precarious layers of the working class. This article examines the growth and collective struggles of such precarious layers in two very different places: California, United States and Gauteng, South Africa. The comparison challenges and extends existing research in two ways. First, it shows that the spread of insecurity is far from uniform, taking different forms in different places. Lack of citizenship is more crucial for workers in California, whereas underemployment is more crucial for workers in Gauteng. Second, it shows that insecure segments of the working class are capable of developing collective agency. This agency may be rooted in identities that extend beyond precarious employment, and will reflect the particular forms of insecurity that are prevalent in the given context. Such diversity is illustrated by examining May Day protests in California and community protests around service delivery in Gauteng.

Type
Precarious Labor in Global Perspectives
Copyright
Copyright © International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc. 2016 

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48. The workforce is measured slightly differently in the two cases, as only the Gauteng figures include discouraged work seekers, or people who would like to be working but have given up searching for a job. This is because the American Community Survey does not allow for their identification. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, in 2011 discouraged work seekers comprised less than one percent of the California workforce (see http://www.bls.gov/lau/stalt11q4.htm, compare U-3 and U-4). The difference in measurement is thus unlikely to have a significant impact on the substantive results.

49. See Table 4 for sources.

50. The analysis of May Day protests in California is based on seventeen months of participant observation in migrant rights struggles between 2011 and 2013, and twenty-six in-depth interviews conducted with migrant rights activists. The analysis of community protests in Gauteng is based on twenty-three months of ethnographic fieldwork in Johannesburg, including interviews with 104 activists and community members.

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59. These data were made available to me by the University of Johannesburg research team. For details on the database, see Peter Alexander, Carin Runciman, and Trevor Ngwane, Community Protests 2004–2013: Some Research Findings (Johannesburg, 2014).

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