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75 years of PNP - What is Portia's legacy?

Published:Sunday | September 29, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Orville Taylor

The introduction by Pryce was brief, as he prefers it to be, and then for a moment, I thought that I had missed the Comrade leader's speech because the fat lady was singing. However, it was not over. Then, the media's favourite politician, Roger Clarke, who speaks his mind, threw daggers of diatribe to the masses, and took no backchat.

In came Portia Simpson Miller, who, for the gazillionth time, gave us the tired references to her origins: daughter of a farmer, of the soil, blah-blah-blah. As someone who has myself come from lower on the social rung, it is 'clyding' to hear the worn-out information because the world should have finally learnt, after three years, that she is a woman, and of humble background.

Yes, Sister P, we are proud of you, but enough already! Tell us what you are going to do next.

Before her, former leader P. J. Patterson ran down a list of things the party had achieved, outlining the legacy of both Manleys and himself. Truthfully, I would have wanted to hear at least an acknowledgement that the People's National Party (PNP) was actually the brainchild of a black man, O.T. Fairclough. But such is history, because the PNP's early leaders stole much of Marcus Garvey's People's Political Party (PPP) ideas from 1929, including the notion that we should have sought self-government.

Garvey, in the same manifesto, pushed for cheaper sources of electricity for native producers, something which, in 2013, the Government is finally getting into its head. Protection of local industries, and the encouragement of a domestic private sector were high on Garvey's agenda, and, being a trade unionist, put himself in the firing line as he led a printers' strike in 1907.

Marcus had a clear head as to what were the fundamental labour standards for Jamaican workers, including: the protection of native labour against moneyed and foreign insurgents; a minimum wage; employment accident, sickness, and death insurance; as well as an eight-hour workday are all Garvey's ideas, not Norman Manley's, and certainly not Alexander Bustamante's, who was one of the 'founders' of the PNP displayed on the platform during the inauguration of the party in September 1938.

It was Garvey who told Jamaicans that they should form trade unions and have them elect parliamentarians to further their objectives by passing worker-sensitive laws. Said Garvey: "... The workers of Jamaica should elect their own representatives, and if the Government here will not pay the legislators, as is done in England and America, then the unions and organisations should pay these men so that they can talk out without caring whom they offend." He realised that political representatives were easily tempted, and venality and betrayal for a few pieces of silver were real possibilities.

Garvey understood, as someone who was sold out by his own in the United States of America (USA), that it was important to have zero tolerance towards corruption. Interestingly, when he declared that judges should be fair and, if found corrupt or dishonest, they should be impeachable, he was arrested and convicted for seditious libel.

More ironically, Manley, who would subsequently pirate his concepts and plans, advised the municipal council to not seat him, and on another occasion, took action against him, literally taking his famous throne from under him.

Disservice to a hero

The PNP owes Garvey a pardon for the evil incarceration and the failure to acknowledge his contribution to its very existence.

Norman Manley's PNP did very little for the poor black Jamaican worker. Indeed, as an unimpressive anti-black and anti-working-class JLP administration of the 1960s finally did something right, by implementing the National Insurance Act and Scheme - Manley vehemently disagreed.

Moreover, when the Labourites finally got the message and attempted to pass the Termination of Employment and the Industrial Relations Bills, in 1971, the PNP stridently opposed the latter.

Finally, Michael Manley, after some urging, eventually put the bills back on the agenda, which eventually became The Employment Termination and Redundancy Payment Act of 1974 and the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act in 1975. Thus, the two most important labour laws of the 1970s are actually JLP initiatives. Neverthe-less, Manley did volumes for the Jamaican worker.

Creating institutions like the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy, the Social Development Commission, and the National Housing Trust, and providing universal free secondary education, he made it possible for persons from the lower strata to access university education. The Status of Children Act, Maternity Leave Act, Holiday with Pay Orders, and Equal Pay for Men and Women Act are but part of the Manley revolution. Nonethe-less, economically, his administration was a failure.

SCANDALS GALORE

After the PNP returned to power in 1989, the expectation was that it would reprise its pro-worker agenda of the 1970s. Alas, despite creating the Office of Utilities Regulation, the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), and National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the regime saw myriad scandals and scores of breaches. Notably, more than 50 per cent of projects rejected by NEPA were reinstated by politicians. Recently, the Government went to court to prevent the OCG from having oversight of certain projects, and to block a full inquiry into an improper donation by Dutch firm Trafigura Beheer, which the courts finally rejected.

Two weeks ago, an OCG report showed up improper conduct on the part of Junior Minister Richard Azan and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, who also figures in the Tafigura debacle. Paulwell is particularly responsible because his entrée into public service was in the early 1990s, as he was entrusted to preside over a new regimen of fair, honest, and open trade practices. He was also minister in charge when Junior Minister Kern Spencer was charged for impropriety.

Portia has been leader for seven years now, and prime minister for three. Maybe she hasn't checked her calendar or birth certificate, but at close to 70 years old, she must be keen on building her own legacy and making her own mark on history.

portia's legacy

If, heaven forbid, evergreen Portia were to be suddenly taken by the Lord, and the good die young, what would be her lasting contribution to this country?

In her address last Sunday, she spent several minutes reviewing the achievements of P. J. and others. Nonetheless, has she put Jamaica on an unequivocally progressive path? What should one glean from her to tell the hungry faithful who are waiting to exhale?

How is she going to make a dent in youth unemployment? When will the labour laws, which the International Labour Organization found inadequate 24 years ago, be amended to truly protect the Jamaican worker? Although she declared, "We have done all we can to help the poor." Nevertheless, the increase in the education budget, social security benefits, and national minimum wage, though minuscule, are commendable, but not revolutionary. She spoke of the growth in small businesses, but we need to see more details, especially regarding interest rates for their loans.

We look forward to the completion of the Linstead to Moneague highway in January 2016, and bridges and roads to be repaired as promised. Much revolves around the logistics hub, which she boasts is endorsed by the International Monetary Fund. Doubtless, $150b is nothing to scoff at, but Jamaica needs to know that it is a better deal than when we allowed the transnationals to suck away our bauxite and treat it like cheap ore.

I welcome the insertion of Garvey in the curriculum, hopefully with the Manley betrayal, too.

By the way, although she didn't this time, I am also tired of the Lee Kuan Yew People's Action Party references in Singapore. There is one thing he focused on, which everybody seems to miss: eliminating corruption.

Thus, here is my advice to Sister P again. Stop living in the past; history will judge you on your achievements, not your past. Second, walk the walk. The Jamaican workers are still waiting for you to enact even one single pro-worker or pro-woman statute. And when you go to court, please answer, and not leave it up to the PNP.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.