End of an Era | 'Anything for Jamaican workers'
In the lead-up to Portia Simpson Miller's last day in Parliament, The Gleaner looks back at some of the stand-out moments of a political career that spanned several decades. See more tomorrow.
From early in her political career, Portia Simpson Miller signaled that she was no pushover, exhibiting a kind of resolve and determination that suggested she would do anything necessary to defend the rights of the people who elected her to represent them in Parliament.
Having been elected Member of Parliament for St Andrew South West in 1976, then only 31 years old, Portia Simpson signaled her intention to let her voice be heard. This was clear during a debate in the House of Representatives early in 1979, on a hike in food prices which the then opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) protested vigorously across the country. St Andrew North Central Member of Parliament Douglas Vaz had moved a controversial motion on adjournment of the House, calling on the People's National Party (PNP) government to immediately roll back the prices of basic foods and petrol to levels which prevailed before the increases were announced.
His motion was made against the background of what he claimed were massive increases in the price of basic food items which were "resoundingly rejected by an overwhelming islandwide demonstration of peaceful resistance as called by the Jamaica Labour Party which specifically excluded essential services."
Then young firebrand parliamentary secretary and MP for the gritty St Andrew South West constituency, Simpson, took aim at her political opponents and berated them for this action which she said was a blatant act of intimidation intended to wrest power from the sitting government.
She said the JLP and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) led demonstration, was not geared towards peace and justice but was "intended to swim on the blood of the workers of this country and the poor people to swim on their blood to power.”
Simpson said: “Demonstration by intimidation cannot work in our country."
Simpson made what appeared to be a veiled threat that her constituents would not sit idly by and allow a disruptive opposition to intimidate the workers of Jamaica.
"I assure them (the workers) that as Member of Parliament, and this honourable House knows when I talk I am not talking for three, four people, I am talking on behalf of the thousands that gave me this mandate - they had better treat those workers right because the day they go on strike, the thousands will be standing beside those workers to ensure that they get their rights."
Then JLP MP, the late Percival Broderick exclaimed,"Is that a threat?"
Replied Simpson: "If you want to regard anything I say concerning the welfare of workers as a threat so you may, but I will do anything for the workers of this country so long as they give me the right."
Excerpts from Portia Simpson’s contribution to a debate in the House of Representatives in 1979
"Mr Speaker I happen to represent a constituency with a large number of suffering people but they won't be turned back and no amount of threats against their lives, no amount of fire that they will burn down their places, no amount of guns or where sub machine guns are being given to be brought out against them, all these won't turn us back. One thing I am certain of, so long as I am alive in that area they have a leader and I will die with them."
"The constituency that I represent, I am the leader and no force or forces from outside can come and destroy the organisation that I have."
"...When I talk, I can talk, because I am one that suffer with the people because when I get my pay cheque it does not come to Portia Simpson but a part of it goes out into the little areas to assist a number of children who were not able to take up their Common Entrance scholarships...".