Manuela Solís Sager, Tejana labor activist and union organizer, was born in Webb County, Texas, on April 29, 1911, to Joaquin and Angela (Barrera) Solís. Her parents were born in Mexico and came to the United States when they were children. Her father began work as a miner at the age of twelve in Dolores, Texas. Her mother was a teacher. Growing up, Manuela lived in a Catholic household and was the oldest of her seven siblings. Though they lived in Laredo, Manuela and her family also picked cotton throughout South Texas when she was a child. She later recalled that her mother died in her arms when she was thirteen years old. In Laredo, with her father and uncles, she helped organize the Onion Strike in the late 1920s.
During the 1930s Manuela Solís continued her fight for the rights of textile and agricultural laborers and advocated safer work conditions, better pay, and racial justice for Mexican workers. She organized the local International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union in Laredo in the early 1930s. In 1934 she was offered a scholarship from Asociación de Jornaleros to study at La Universidad Obrera in Mexico City. That same year she married James Sager who was also a labor activist and worked for the Banana Strike laborers in Central and South America. The couple had one son. In 1935 she attended a conference in Corpus Christi with other Mexican labor activists where she established the South Texas Agricultural Workers’ Union. She continued to travel around Texas and organized other unions but had the most trouble in the Rio Grande Valley, where many work bosses, business owners, and law enforcement officials were “anti-Mexican and anti-union.” While there, she experienced racial discrimination while trying to check into her office space in Harlingen, Texas, where her husband James was waiting for her. The staff refused her and her husband’s service because she was Mexican American even though they previously had paid for a six-month rental. At another location, the police raided their space and destroyed all of their property, including important documents.
Due to the poor outcome in the Rio Grande Valley, Manuela Solís Sager and her fellow labor activists of the Texas Workers Alliance moved to San Antonio, where they focused on helping the Mexican workers protest against low pay and dangerous working conditions at the Southern Pecan Shelling Company in 1938 (see PECAN SHELLERS’ STRIKE). During that time, she participated in two strikes and became one of the many leaders. Despite living in the United States, Manuela was a member of the Communist Party and in favor of the Communist ideals that influenced her passion for “immigrants’ rights, advocating electoral politics,” and “promoting the Chicano movimiento” in San Antonio, Texas. Part of the Chicano movement included her time in La Raza Unida where many women activists fought for political participation throughout Texas.
Later on in her life, Sager, along with Emma Tenayuca, was honored on January 1, 1984, as part of the Chicana Voices conference in Austin, Texas, as the eldest women participating in the union movement at that time. Manuela Solís Sager died on April 28, 1996, while on a visit to see her son in Los Angeles, California.