'ONLY DECENT GIRLS ARE EMPLOYED'
The Respectability, Decency and Virtue of the Garment Workers
Witwatersrand during the Thirties.Introduction
During the Inter-war years Afrikaner women who were employed as garmentworkers in the Witwatersrand clothing industry were confronted with harshconditions of exploitation within their working environment. Moreover,on a social level they often had to face a denigrating and at times veryhostile public. Garment workers were regarded not as respected and re-spectable working women, but as factory 'girls'.
In 1952, after his banning under the Suppression of Communism Act, SollySachs, General Secretary of the Garment Workers' Union (hereafter GWU)from 1928 to 1952, in a farewell address to the garment workers, terselysummarised the social marginality of the garment workers,U was slegs 'n fabrieksmeisie oor wie niemand bekommerd hoef tewees nie.(You were merely a factory girl about whom no one needs to be
However flattering the epithet of eternal youth - factory girl - mighthave been, the categorisation of female factory workers as 'girls' had
Women in Witwatersrand Industries,
M.A. dissertation,University of the Witwatersrand, 1932,
A girl is by definition young, immature, subject to parental and otherauthority, obedient, inexperienced and not fully responsible for heractions - all in all, a 'non-adult
. In 1932, during the generalstrike in the industry, garment workers were even referred to asfactory 'meide' a term of abuse. For a comprehensive discussion ofthis question see E. Brink, '"Maar 'n Klomp 'Factory' Meide": Afri-kaner Family and Community on the Witwatersrand during the Twenties',in B. Bozzoli,
Class, Community and Conflict,
Johannesburg: Ravan,in press.
S. Sachs, 'Heil Volksmoeder, Werkster!', May/June 1952.