Solly Sachs

Published on website July 30, 2018

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Emil Solomon "Solly" Sachs was born in Lithuania, and immigrated to South Africa with his family in 1914. Upon his completion of Standard 5, he worked as a shop's assistant.

Apart from establishing a trade union for his fellow shop assistants in Johannesburg, Sachs also formed a group that studied the writing of Karl Marx. He had great admiration for Stalin, and by 1919 he was a member of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA).

In 1921, he joined the Communist Youth League, and in 1925, travelled to the Soviet Union to study global revolutionary movements. When he returned to South Africa, he studied English, law and economics at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS).

By 1926, he had been elected to the national executive committee of the South African Trade and Labour Council (SATLC), and in 1928 become the Secretary of the Garment Workers' Union of South Africa (GWU). This became one of South Africa's most controversial and active trade unions in South Africa during its time.

After leading two general strikes in 1931 and 1932, Sachs was arrested and banned for 12 months. Sachs also founded the South African Clothing Workers' Union in 1928, which aimed to address the concerns of black workers in the clothing industry.

In 1952, two orders under the Suppression of Communism Act were enforced on Sachs, the first of which ordered that he resign as an official of the GWU within 30 days. In protest of this order, the GWU held a gathering on 24 May 1952, and Sachs addressed a crowd of more than 15 000 people. In July 1952, Sachs was arrested twice and was found guilty on two charges- both of which were suspended for two years.

The following year, Sachs left South Africa and settled in Britain, where he continued to fight against the apartheid regime, particularly when his son, Albie Sachs, was arrested.


  1. Verwey, E.J. (ed) (1995) New Dictionary of South African Biography, v.1, Pretoria: HSRC.

Sourced from SA History