My Political Journey: Jamaica’s Sixth Prime Minister Pt. 3 | Bustamante and Manley emerge
P.J Patterson, ON, OCC, PC, QC, was Jamaica's sixth and longest-serving prime minister from 1992 to 2006. His book, 'My Political Journey: Jamaica's Sixth Prime Minister', published by the University of the West Indies Press, will be launched next week. The Gleaner will be publishing daily excerpts until the launch. This is Part Three.
The years leading up to 1938 were tense ones, charged with the discontent of the people and the perpetual expectations of violence and unrest. The first salvo was fired on 4 January 1938, when workers at Serge Island Sugar Estate in St Thomas struck. The tension and unrest continued, with the threat of further violence, and on 1 May, 21 days after my third birthday, the riots at Frome Estate erupted as workers protested the failure to honour promised increases and improved benefits. Several rioters were killed. The situation further intensified, with workers staging strikes on the Port of Kingston, and protests soon spread to other equally disgruntled workers of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation.
The immediate result of the workers’ action was the formation of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, a vehicle that could effectively organise the workers’ movement and give voice to the issues which plagued them. The formation of the union strengthened the fledgling workers’ movement and ensured that it became a permanent element of the Jamaican workplace. While new trade unions would develop over time, Alexander Bustamante would continue to be regarded as the leader of the nation’s working class.
It was natural that Norman Manley’s legal background would see him approaching the political movement from the perspective of constitutional change, focusing, initially, on gaining a voice for the people by doggedly advocating for universal adult suffrage. Manley’s work was supported by several forward-thinking groups and individuals who believed that the status quo in Jamaica had to be changed and the society restructured to provide a place for the ordinary Jamaican.
Manley established a reputation as a brilliant lawyer, much sought after by major local and international firms that worked in Jamaica. It was through his connections with the United Fruit Company that he was able to gain funding for the work of Jamaica Welfare. Manley entered the fray when he undertook to represent Alexander Bustamante, his cousin, against the government. He soon identified with the struggles of the people and decided to devote himself to supporting the workers’ movement by forming Jamaica’s first successful political party, the People’s National Party (PNP), on 18 September 1938.
The formation of the party was the result of the combined efforts of men such as O.T. Fairclough, who travelled the island explaining the concept of the party; W.A. Domingo, Adolphe Roberts and H.P. Jacobs, members of the Jamaica Progressive League; and Frank and Ken Hill and Noel Nethersole, members of the National Reform Association. The first committee comprised Norman Manley, O.T. Fairclough, Howard Cooke, H.P. Jacobs, Noel Nethersole, the Reverend O.G. Penso and W.G. McFarlane. Howard Cooke shared with me the feeling of those heady days: “When we got together, we felt almost a missionary urge. We wanted to change things, we wanted to go out and tell people they would have a better life.”