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Orville Taylor: PNP must rediscover roots

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2015 | 9:00 AMOrville Taylor
Michael Manley

None lesser than the great Jamaican, Marcus Garvey, said, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots," and if you have no self-confidence, you are twice defeated in the race of life.

True self-confidence can only be based on true self-knowledge, and recognition of where we realistically stand in history and time. Well, I hope someone reads and tells the prime minister, because, like her Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) counterpart, Andrew Holness, she has been once defeated in the election race, and at her age, it's the race of her life. It is acceptable to be confident and assured of victory, but overconfidence is the feet of clay.

Portia Simpson Miller and her orange-fisted backers need to understand that the People's National Party's (PNP) history didn't begin with her, and not even its most 'pollific' president, P. J. Patterson. It has been most successful in the polls because at the end of the 1960s, it shook off its upper-/middle-class mantle and became the party of the poor and working class. It was established initially as a middle class party, with a narrow appeal to the grass roots.

first collective labour agreement

True, it had been created by the groundswell of the workers' uprisings in the 1930s and first president, Norman Manley, was the person who increased the size of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and negotiated the first collective labour agreement for sugar workers.

However, it was not set up to be a workers' party. Indeed, it is a little-publicised fact that the founder of the JLP, Alexander Bustamante, was actually a founding member of the PNP.

More interesting is that among the names touted for the fledgling party after banker O.T. Fairclough had completed his groundwork and advocacy for the formation of the yet-unnamed political organisation was the 'Jamaica Labour Party'. Yes, believe it or not, the PNP was to have been the original JLP.

Influential leaders in this distinctly middle-class movement wanted to distance themselves from it being a workers' movement and some of them pushed for the name 'Jamaica National Party'. Manley strongly opposed this name and they finally settled on PNP.

It was because the JLP passed more gas than laws in Parliament during the 1960s that the PNP became the workers' party. Trade union leader Michael, the son of Norman, whose foundation the PNP no longer funds, was democratically elected as president to succeed his father in 1969, despite fellow lawyer Vivian Blake being Norman's personal favourite. Blake was a right-winger who eschewed the socialist mantra of the party and was more seen as a capitalist. The people spoke and the party became the voice of the downtrodden.

Michael's administration initiated more labour and social legislation than in any decade of the history of Jamaica, and it is under Michael that Portia felt how sweet an election could be. It is the returned Michael in 1989 that told Jamaica that she should be taken seriously, even though the senior functionaries at the labour and welfare ministry had to help her make baby steps.

The democratic leadership of Michael Manley allowed for the selection of candidates internally by the delegates, and despite having his personal preferences, he allowed both Patterson and Sister P to run off against each other instead of hand-picking anyone. After all, he had benefited from the same transparency decades earlier.

Nonetheless, one might call it a red herring, but there was something very 'raw' about the events that unfolded last week in St Elizabeth. Quite independently, I had agreed with young Raymond Pryce, who demanded that non-governmental organisations reveal their sources of funding, because we need to know who pulls their drawstrings. It is the same concern I have had with political parties, because I recall someone with more economic means than Pryce forking out several millions a few years ago, in that same parish.

curry favouring

Money allows candidates to literally curry favour, goat and chicken as they buy votes. But currying the parrot might take a bit more, because it talks freely. There are some persons who I suspect give large amounts to the party, and if we follow the invisible trail, we might understand why some laws and policies are not introduced. The worker/social-protection programme, for example, which Manley gave to the people via the PNP, is as dead as his memory.

I find it trifling, but amusing, that the PNP looks ready to colt the game and pick someone whose name suggests that he is actually is more suited to south St Elizabeth rather than north. It deeply troubles me, a scholar of our democracy, that an icon of the party felt the need to take her beloved PNP to court to protect the democratic tradition.

Pryce, young, bright, articulate and who seemed to epitomise many of the election promises made by the Comrade leader in her pre-election entreaties in 2011, suddenly became the man whom powerful elements wanted to see the back of.

Party stalwart Daphne Holmes, someone who walked with first president Norman Manley and second leader Michael Manley, was instrumental in the political campaign of most orange people in the parish, and who herself served as mayor of Black River in the 1980s, was ignored and disrespected as she expressed her concerns about the process and selection procedure for the determination of the candidate. It was akin to a wholesale store where, in trying to take advantage of the consumer, the merchant hides the price. Nothing that went on in St Elizabeth tells me that it isn't 'Pryce-gouging'.

Nonetheless, my caution to the Comrade leader is that when injustice is meted out to members of the party, the effect is often felt in the polls. Moreover, the public hates when 'elders', and those who worked hard to build the name of any institution, are disrespected. I'm sure Holness won't stick his nose in this fowl fight, but I bet that he remembers losing after he marginalised the 'elder'.

- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.