Solly Sachs

by Emily Lussier


Emil Solomon "Solly" Sachs, born in Lithuania, emigrated to South Africa in 1914 with his family, where they lived in Johannesburg. He worked as a shop assistant, and established trade unions for other shop assistants he worked with. Sachs joined the Communist Party of South Africa in 1919. In 1928, he continued his union work, becoming the Secretary of the Garment Worker's Union to represent poorly paid factory women, many of whom who were Afrikaners struggling from the depression. Similarly, he also founded the South African Clothing Workers' Union in 1928 in hopes of to address the concerns of black workers in the industry. Sachs was arrested and banned for a year following two general strikes in 1931 and 1932. Upholding his unions proved difficult following those and other arrests and his being tried under the Suppression of Communism Act. He left South Africa in 1953, saying his position had become untenable. But he continued to fight against the apartheid regime.

Solly Sachs, as a white man, worked hard to create a voice for those he felt were not being represented in the anti-apartheid struggle, mainly clothing factory workers who were women or black. This also shows a level of selflessness, because he did not focus his work strictly on his struggles as a Jewish minority, but on those workers who he thought needed a voice. His unions were some of the most active in South Africa during the time, and even after facing arrests for his protests and trial under the Suppression of Communism Act, Sachs continued to fight on behalf of these workers. He sympathized with these young Afrikaner girls who experienced poor working conditions and had no previous representation of their interests, specifically with the GWU. He worked hard on their behalf and succeeded in acquiring funding for the clothing industry in Transvaal though the Industrial Council. Even after leaving South Africa, he continued the fight, which mattered to him whether South Africa was his residence or not.

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"My dad Solly (Emil Solomon) Sachs was the General Secretary of the Garment Workers’ Union, a very brilliant, passionate and effective trade union organiser. A controversial person in as much as he seemed to find himself in conflict with, not only the bosses and the government but also in the Communist Party. He was expelled for right-wing deviationism in 1931, on the basis that looks ludicrous looking back now, and then had difficulties in his personal life as well. And one result was that he was constantly involved in litigation. He seemed to love going to court. I think he accounted for something like twenty-six different court cases, many of which are

reported in the law reports today. And...(I’m saying this in brackets now...not for the transcript, but I’m closing my eyes, I’m shutting you out, it’s like a private thing, a reverie that I’m conducting in your presence but not with you), and the...he had a kind of huge respect for the judges in Johannesburg. It was partly he saw the courts as a battleground. He could fight for the workers on the basis of legislation in their favour. If he was arrested by the police he would try and get the best legal support."-Albie Sachs (Solly's Son)in a 2008 interview


"Emil Solomon "Solly" Sachs, South African Socialist, Dies in London." South African History

Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

"Garment Workers Union (GWU)." South African History Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

"Emil Sachs." South Africa History Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Legal Resources Centere of South Africa. "Albie Sachs Interview." Historical Papers. Historical Papers, William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand, 2008. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.