This article considers the contribution of radical South African philosopher Rick Turner to theories of ‘workers’ control’. Turner’s philosophical work, especially his book, The Eye of the Needle (1972), posited the work-place as a fundamental site of ‘participatory democracy’ and a space for the potential radical transformation of South African society. During the early 1970s, Turner’s philosophical writings, teaching at the University of Natal, and political activism in Durban helped galvanise a cohort of radical white students who joined in support of protesting black workers in the 1973 Durban mass strikes. The confluence of Turner’s ideas about workers’ control, the students’ activism, and the collective action of the black working class gave South Africa’s labour movement a radically democratic, shop-floor orientation that deserves a revival in the new South Africa.
Alex Lichtenstein is a Professor of History at Indiana University, a Research Fellow of the International Studies Group, University of the Free State, and in 2017 a Research Fellow at Humboldt University’s International Research Centre on Work and Human Lifecycle, where he is writing a book about the 1973 Durban strikes. He has published numerous articles on both U.S. and South African labour history, and he is the author (with Rick Halpern) of Margaret Bourke-White and the Dawn of Apartheid (2016). In August 2017 he will become Editor of the American Historical Review. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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