Michael Burke of Jamaica Observer Thursday, February 09, 2017
Michael Manley was elected president of the People’s National Party (PNP) on February 9, 1969. Ironically, this anniversary comes around this year when the party’s president, Portia Simpson Miller, has announced her intention to retire.
Michael Manley led the PNP to power in 1972 and won again in 1976. The PNP went down in defeat in 1980 and did not contest the 1983 General Election in protest against a three-year-old voters’ list. The PNP returned to power with Michael Manley as prime minister when that party won the general election held on February 9, 1989, exactly 20 years after Michael Manley was elected president of the PNP.
It is easy to just think that Michael Manley was elected president of the PNP simply because his father was Norman Manley. While that was a contributing factor, it was far more than that. One has to understand the role that trade unions played in politics in Jamaica between the 1930s and the 1970s.
In the same year that Michael Manley entered first form at Jamaica College (1935) the National Reform Association was founded to press for self-government. There were also the local branches of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and its leader was St William Grant. At that time, the banana industry was as important to the Jamaican economy as tourism is today. With a disease wiping out the industry, scores of individuals from rural Jamaica flocked to Kingston. To get the workers back to the banana estates, Jamaica Welfare was founded in 1937 by Norman Manley to bring about rural development, making it more attractive for banana farming.
Riots at the sugar estates in Westmoreland in 1938 had a spillover effect in Kingston as the waterfront workers, who mainly packed the boats with bananas and sugar, also went on strike. Out of this, Alexander Bustamante, who had joined the UNIA platform of St William Grant and formed the Bustamante industrial Trade Union (BITU) in May 1938.
By September 1938, the National Reform Association evolved into the PNP with Norman Manley as its first president. Up to this stage, Bustamante was a member of the PNP. The PNP had organised a league of the splinter trade unions in 1939 and called it the Trades Union Advisory Council.
When Bustamante split with the PNP and formed the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in 1943, he took his powerful union with him. At this time, the young Michael Manley had entered McGill University. After a week at that university he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. more