Five years after the Government forced him to relinquish his general Secretary, the name of E. Sachs still lives in people's minds with the Garment Workers' Union of South Africa.

It is no accident that the two are inseparably linked. For a quarter of a century, Solly Sachs was at the helm as organiser and inspire of every struggle of the garment workers for better conditions and wages. To him more than any other person must go the credit for building the only trade union in the history of South Africa whose members enjoy a 40-hour week.

Emil Solomon Sachs spent his childhood in a small town in Russia under the Tsarist regime. Racial persecution made life unbearably difficult for minority groups, and at an early age Sachs acquired a loathing for national hatred and racial persecution.

By the time he reached South Africa his sympathies were entirely with the underdog-with the oppressed, the dispossessed, the persecuted and exploited.

His sister was a clothing worker, and on Saturday afternoon she would bring home some of her fellow workers. Their stories of terrible hardship evoked his deep sympathy. Later he was to see at first hand the misery and starvation that was the lot of thousands of workers who had deserted the poverty of the platteland for the slums of the cities in order to earn a living.

In 1928 Sachs was elected secretary of the Witwatersrand Tailors' Association (composed of garment workers and tailors), and for the next twenty-four years he was intimately associated with the struggle of clothing workers for decent conditions. Were it not for his arbitrary removal from the post of general secretary by the minister of Justice, Mr. C. Swart, in 1952, there is still a little doubt that he would still be leading the union in its fight against injustice and in defence of its rights.

"Garment Workers in Action" is the epic story of the thousands of women and men who built the clothing industry, the third largest secondary industry in the country. It is the story of the painful task of building a strong united union in the face of overwhelming odds - the bitter opposition of employers, the hostility of government, and the poisonous activities of the fifth columnist acting on the orders of political groups outside the trade union.

How the union fought theses obstacles is a gripping and dramatic tale, underlining lessons every worker should take to heart.


Chapter 1. The South African Trade Union Movement- Historical Background

Chapter 2. The Early History of the Garment Workers

Chapter 3. The Poor White Problem

Chapter 5. A Rebel’s Daughter

Chapter 6. A Daughter of the Free State

Chapter 9. The Struggle against Sweating

Chapter 10. Cleaning Up the Clothing Industry

Chapter 11. Court Cases

Chapter 12. The General Strike Of 1931

Chapter 15. The African Worker-A Policeman and Pair Of Handcuffs Always Waiting

Chapter 16. Coloured and Indian Members

Chapter 17. Afrikaner Nationalism and the Workers

Chapter 19. The Dutch Reformed Churches

Chapter 20. Malan’s Road to a New South Africa

Chapter 21. Civil War in the Factories

Chapter 22. A Slight Case of Blackmail

Chapter 23. How the United Party Betrayed South Africa

Chapter 26. Further Attacks-Passport Case

Chapter 28. I Fight Back