Michael Manley: nation-builder

Published: Sunday | March 8, 2009

Robert Buddan, Contributor

Michael Manley died on March 6, 1997. He still speaks to us, first through The Politics of Equality, a collection of 17 budget presentations delivered in Parliament from 1969 to 1991 as leader of the Opposition and prime minister.

This was compiled by Delano Franklyn and very successfully launched at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus on February 27. The panel of speakers at the launch all agreed that it was a "must read".

Manley also speaks to us through Personally Speaking, a four-part interview in late 1996 with Donette Chin-Loy, the last filmed interview before his passing. It is indeed, as the jacket says, a "collector's item". It is, I believe, just recently on the market. The publishers of the book, Wilson, Franklyn, Barnes; and the producers of the DVD, Donette Chin-Loy and Frame by Frame Film and Video Productions, must be commended for deciding that part proceeds of the book and DVD will go to the Michael Manley Foundation, now coincidentally chaired by Delano Franklyn.

Separate projects

Though separate projects, the two complement each other seamlessly as one. Ideally, they should be understood as part of the same story. The book covers Manley's years as an active politician. The interview takes up where the book ends with his reflections in retirement. The interview also puts the 1970s and 1990s in context with an overview of the international system over those decades and Jamaica's responses to them. He does this in a way that his acute mind could manage with intellectual ease, though as he confessed, as a frustrated nation-builder.

As nation-builder, what did Manley leave for us? Danny Roberts of the National Workers' Union found common threads running through Manley's budget speeches. They were morality, equality, participation and people. We might say that Manley's call was a moral call to equality with the participation of people in nation-building. Glynn Manley thought there was something that paralleled her late husband and Barack Obama, an American nation-builder, that being their inspirational qualities. Obama's "Yes, we can" carries the same import as Manley and the PNP's "Better Must Come", the popular slogan of hope by which they swept to power in 1972.

Senator Dwight Nelson was very strong in suggesting that Manley was the most progressive leader and the most important labour leader in the Caribbean in his time, meaning that ideas of progress and advocacy of the rights of the working class must be a part of nation-building. Robert Pickersgill, the chairman of the People's National Party (PNP) reiterated the view that Manley was ahead of his time because of the vision he had to open relations with Cuba, China and Venezuela and how these have materialised with huge economic and social benefits to the country.

The Reverend Oliver Daley was the guest speaker at the book launch and he thought Manley's emphasis on self-esteem, self-worth and self-reliance was vital in the context of Jamaica's history of slavery and colonialism, designed to deny people all of these. The implication is that self-belief is critical if a nation is going to take responsibility for its development and a nation-builder must know what it is about history that is keeping people from realising their highest ideals and their truest potential.

Hopefully, Franklyn, his colleagues and the foundation will publish this excellent set of reflections and remembrances as a guide to present and future generations of nation-builders. Former minister, Easton Douglas, whose wealth of party knowledge and Manley insights came out in his chairing of the book launch, and P.J. Patterson, who attended, should have a role in this.

Role and challenges

So what did Manley himself think about his role and his challenges in nation-building? Manley should have the last word and thankfully, Donette Chin-Loy's interview with him in his retirement gave him that. Naturally, his views will be more retrospective, reflective and self-critical than those remembering him fondly.

Up to the end, Michael Manley still described himself as a democratic socialist. He had not changed his fundamental beliefs. He had only been trying to have a better understanding of being a democratic socialist. He was never a communist and people were idiotic to have believed that propaganda. His theme remains the same - equality and justice. How is one to achieve these?

Leadership today needs a role for the intellectual. Intellectuals have time to reflect. They have always guided world history, whether they were John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx or John Maynard Keynes. Leadership needs people who can answer questions like how we finance well-structured and well-run educational and health systems? Politicians might be too focused on the political battles of the day to have this time to research and reflect. Think of Dr Winston Davidson's influence in developing the very successful National Health Fund.

The nation-building leader needed to reflect on solutions. Manley had solutions. For example, the Employer Share Ownership Programme was to make workers into shareholders and thus into stakeholders. They would have a stake in their companies' competitiveness and productivity since they would share in the surplus. Manley had a solution to the world economic system and its immoral division into rich and poor countries. The developed countries needed the wisdom to see that if they promoted growth in developing countries, then the people of those developing countries would be better able to afford to buy from the developed ones. Both sides would benefit.

Manley felt that if societies and countries accepted policies of equality and justice then equal and just opportunities as share and stakeholders in companies would improve productivity and allow Jamaica to compete in a CARICOM region of free movement of capital and labour.

CARICOM would become a learning platform for global competitiveness. Without the foundation of a stakeholder economy and democracy, the recipes of liberalisation, capitalism and structural adjustment won't bring the benefits we expect. But we need to see what structures are in the way of change, structures of conflict (like employer-worker, political - community relations) and change them into structures of cooperation.

Timely advice

The release of Manley's speeches and interview is timely. They provide good advice as we go into our Budget and sectoral debates from April at a time of the deepest crisis in our modern history. Let's take one example. Worker-management share ownership would provide a better basis for social partnerships to equitably and responsibly address the crisis of production so that cuts in costs are not the burden of workers and bail-outs the benefit of owners. Stimulus packages that are just and equitable would provide money to retrain workers and managers and retool companies from sugar to bauxite as well as small and medium businesses to suit new conditions for national productivity. Otherwise, this is public money going to private family businesses.

A stimulus package by a collective CARICOM effort could provide more than a billion US dollars to seed cross-border investments in a number of industries to build supply and demand and in so doing, the basis for global competitiveness while lessening dependency. The region has a special opportunity to come out of this crisis in a stronger position. The reasons for South-South trade, North-South dialogue, and greater self-reliance on our talents are more powerful now than ever. We can proceed to debate our future by consulting Michael Manley, a great nation-builder.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona. Email: Robert.Buddan@uwimona.edu.jm or columns@gleanerjm.com.