Sun | Feb 28, 2021

Labour Daze: Remember Michael Manley

Published:Thursday | May 21, 2015 | 12:00 AMDr Orville Taylor

It is the eve of Labour Day, and a visit to the site of the offices of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) a few days earlier left me with such a hollow feeling. It felt like someone had sneaked into the back of the Cockpit Country and drilled out the bauxite.

I remember the glory days when the trade union movement was very active, Michael Manley was still alive and the education programmes at the Trade Union Education Institute (TUEI) were in full flight. The confederation's premises were the home of the Joint Trade Union Research Development (JTURDC).

With the venerable Professor Rex Nettleford, and Marva Phillips, heading the TUEI, and leaders such as Lloyd Goodleigh operating out of the JTURDC, the constant training and uplift of union officers and worker delegates was paramount. And, of course, Nettleford ensured that despite the myriad programmes, there were no inter-course clashes.


leadership disconnect


My sadness is not nostalgia for the eternal yesterday, although the evidence is that Manley has died a second time. Rather, there is an apparent disconnect between the political leadership, and, to some extent, the labour hierarchy, with the achievement of the past and the need to continue the work. There is a reason that the TUEI was renamed after Hugh Lawson Shearer. It is because during the formative years of the modern trade union movement, he co-championed the cause of the Jamaican worker, albeit from one side of the colour spectrum.

Contrary to the myth of Alexander Bustamante doing the world for Jamaican workers, it was Shearer who was leading the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) when the National Insurance Act was passed in 1966. It was under his prime ministership that the Industrial Relations Bill was introduced in 1971. He also was at the helm when the Termination of Employment Bill was brought to the House, in 1971 as well.

Present leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Andrew Holness, might not be able to speak ad lib about the contribution of Shearer, but Pearnel Charles, Mike Henry and others such as 'Babsy' Grange can speak volumes of the 1970s and 1980s.

Nonetheless, inasmuch as the HLSTUEI has seen a reduction of its training programmes and the number of delegates/officers attending courses, it is still alive and kicking. On the other hand, those who served under the guidance and tutelage of Manley are allowing his legacy to die. Imagine the consternation in discovering that the formerly active Michael Manley Foundation, based within the JCTU's walls, is as good as defunct. A hellish homage to the greatest president the People's National Party (PNP) has ever had.

Perhaps the present leadership forgot, but Manley was the catalyst that transformed the party from being a middle-class, 'stush' organisation to being ostensibly grass-roots. In 1969 when he assumed the leadership, it was against the background of a JLP that had lost its common touch. Originally swept into power on a populist wave as the unsophisticated, 'grammarphobic' Bustamante routed the PNP in the wake of the referendum that said no to the West Indian Federation, the JLP was to lose to the PNP in 1972.

Manley engaged the working class and poor. He was not simply talking about loving them; he was 'doing, doing, doing'. Taking the cue from his father, Norman, who had brought a bill to Parliament in 1961 to change Empire Day to Labour Day, Michael in 1972 turned it into a day of volunteerism. More important, it underlined the party's philosophy that workers were the centre and focus of nation-building.

It is important to note that a year after his party had won the election, the regionalist, anti-imperialist Michael, along with the governments of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas in Trinidad and Tobago, establishing the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). Interestingly, the date of signing was July 4, 1973 - the birthday of the elder Manley.


Embracing CCJ


Michael would have gladly embraced the notion of a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) being the final appellate court, not just for Jamaica, but for all CARICOM nations. Indeed, one would perhaps be surprised that the elder Manley might have read an archived editorial in this very newspaper, of Wednesday, March 6, 1901, where the discontinuation of references to the Privy Council was mooted. Doubtless, these ideas would have passed from father to son.

Yet, one shudders to think that he would have thought that the most urgent law to be passed was to turn the CCJ into the final appellate court for Jamaica. Yes, four CARICOM nations have said yes - Belize, Barbados, Guyana and Dominica; however, Trinidad and Tobago, where, ironically, the court is headquartered, has not so assented. Like Jamaica, its Opposition has been vocal. Former prime minister and trade unionist Basdeo Panday and football figure 'Jack' Warner of the Independent Liberal Party are some of those who are saying, "No CCJ without referendum."

Manley was interested in deepening the processes of democracy, not the dictatorship of the State. The Manley I remembered would cry tears over the fact that a piece of legislation was passed by his successors, in the form that it was in 2002, thereby skilfully allowing employers to call bona fide workers 'contractors' and deny them rights, for which he, Shearer and other post-Independence labour leaders fought. The two bills - not the thirty pieces of silver, I mean, but the 1971 legislation that became the ETRPA and LRIDA - are in dire need of an upgrade.

Manley understood the research and pure common sense that showed that true economic growth could be derived from decent work and a protected workforce. One might want to deny it, but one big reason that the economy didn't grow under his regime, was the internal and external pressure, which derailed any such prospect in the 1970s.

But this is the 2000s and those who are 'de-Manleyising' the agenda are not 'strangers'.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to and