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The Classics

Strong calls for Federation at Labour Day Celebrations

Published:Thursday | May 25, 2023 | 11:25 PM
"Away with the cousins" proclaims one of the banners carried by members of Mr. Willard Johnson's People's Political Party on their Labour Day march through the city on May 23, 1961.

Jamaica had the first official Labour Day in 1961. The political unions decided to celebrate the success of the day and so they organised marches across the island. The citizens used it as an opportunity to share how they felt about the Federation and the People’s National Party. 


In city, May Pen

Marches mark first National Labour Day

Jamaica’s first official Labour Day was celebrated yesterday by three of the island’s political-trade union organizations by marches in the city and celebrations in Clarendon.

Up to last year May 24, Commonwealth or Empire Day as it was previously known was celebrated in this island as “Labour Day” as the closest public holiday to May 3, the actual anniversary of the start of the modern labour movement in Jamaica.

Last year the Government proposed to change commonwealth Day to Labour Day but before the bill was passed, the Legislative accepted a suggestion made in the Parliament and Politics Column of the Political Reporter of the DAILY GLEANER and changed the holiday from May 24 to May 23, the actual anniversary date.

Yesterday instead of the usual twin demonstrations by the Peoples’ National Party and National Workers’ Union on the one hand and the Jamaica Labour Party and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union on the other there was a third participant.  The newly formed People’s Political Party, led by Mr Millard Johnson, and said to be based on the creed of the late Marcus Garvey, also conducted a March ending in the King George VI Memorial Park.  This was the seconds of the city’s marches.  The major demonstration was that led by the Premier, the Hon. Norman Manley, Q.C., which complete with Federation and other political floats followed a circuitous route through the city’s streets culminating with a public meet at the Coronation Market.

Norman Manley headed the elaborate procession in an open car. The Jamaica Labour Party  - B.I.T.U. had their celebrations in a picnic at Muir Park May Pen Clarendon.  These celebrations were led by Sir Alexander Bustamante, who took the salute at the clock tower in May Pen.


The Premier, the Hon. Norman Manley, said yesterday at the end of the People’s National Party march through the streets of Kingston, that he had never had a happier and more powerful march than that which had just ended.

Mr Manley said that the moment of destiny was at hand for Jamaica and the PNP as the supporter of the working class and the only genuine Labour party in Jamaica was aware of it and would lead Jamaica in the right way. The party was now 23 years old, he said.

With over 110,000 members, the National Workers’ Union was the most powerful trade union in the West Indies. The union had done more for the workers than any other trade union even those in Trinidad, he said.  Jamaica was the only country in the world to observe May 23 as Labour Day Independence in unity was at hand, and he prophesied that at the forthcoming Referendum, the Opposition party would be swamped.

The march of the party began at Ward Theatre at 10 a.m. but from an earlier hour, a large crowd collected outside the theatre.  The marchers chanted “Jamaica Yes; Federation Yes.  Another “PNP will win the Referendum.”

The crowd of thousands intermingled with floats, trucks, cycles, motorcycles, and motor cars accompanied by several bands with Mr Manley, standing in an open car, marched along East Queen Street, East Street where the crowds were thickest.  The whole length and breadth of the street seemed to be jammed with singing and dancing people.

Along North Street into Kingston Garden, through Allman Town and Jones Town and along the Spanish Town Road, the crowd surged, everywhere watched by crowds lining the sidewalks. Many of the latter gave the clenched fist signal of the PNP and often Ministers of Government and MHR’s seen riding in the floats were cheered by the watching crowds.

The most spectacular float was the West Central Kingston float which depicted the Federation, naming the island territories and giving their populations with illustrations.  The Ministry of Education float showed a model of the new Ministry of Education building.  It was entitled “Education Citadel.”  The Minister of Home Affairs the Hon. William Seivright rode on a float showing a miniature house.

Traffic delayed

Many of the marchers were wearing vests bearing the words “PNP” and “Federation.” Traffic was delayed but being a holiday it was light and buses seemed to be the most affected. 

The march ended outside Coronation Market with a mass meeting which was addressed by the Premier, Mrs Iris King MHR, the Hon. Thossy Kelly for the NWU, the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Vernon Arnett, and the Minister of Education, the Hon. Florizel Glasspole.

The crowd of about 8,000 dispersed just before 1:00 p.m. after the singing of the party’s song. “Jamaica Arise.”

Hundreds of slogan-shouting, banner-bearing members of the Jamaica Labour Party and the affiliated Bustamante Industrial Trade Union celebrated the island’s first official National Labour Day Holiday yesterday, with a fair at Muir Park, May Pen.

Sir Alexander Bustamante, Leader of the JLP took the salute at the cenotaph at Pen Square from branch and group members of the JLP and BITU as they filed past on their way to Muir Park. The march past lead by the Hon. Edward Seaga and Mr. D. C. Tavares.  MHR Mr Lionel Densham, M.P. Mr E.C.L. Parkinson, Mr R.O. Terrier MHR of the constituency and Miss Gladys Longbridge were with Sir Alexander at the cenotaph.

At the fair, Mr Victor Bailey, chairman of the fair committee said that Sir Alexander had stated that contrary to what the Premier, the Hon. Norman Manley said last Sunday, the question of the referendum on Federation was not a party issue but a national and civic issue.  Mr Bailey urged the people to go to their various districts and carry the referendum-federation question was not a party issue but as a national issue, with Sir Alexander as their member. The crowd, by a showing of hands pledged themselves to take up the challenge.

The crowd which numbered about 4,000 started gathering at the town square about 10:45 a.m. to avoid their leader, but Sir Alexander did not come till about 11:25.  He did not make a speech but only waved to his “Freedom” chanting followers many of whom wore fusonsey with such slogans on them as “Jamaica Yes.” “Federation No.” “Referendum Now”. And others such as “Taxation Dangerous” and “Down with Cost of Living” and they sang anti-federation and other party song.

Main attraction at the fair was a beauty contest at which a “Miss JLP,” a “Miss BITU” and a “Miss Clarendon” were elected.

Miss Arvil Young, 20 of Howell’s Content, Clarendon was elected Miss Clarendon, Miss Catalena Garcia, 16 of York Pen, Clarendon was elected Miss BITU and Miss Cecile Murdock, 17 –year-old clerk of 8A Upper West Street, Kingston was chosen Miss JLP.

The People’s Political Party led by Mr. Millard Johnson began their march yesterday at the party’s headquarters on Spanish Town Road and ended with a meeting at the George Memorial Park.

A crowd of about 1,500 persons carrying banners with an emphasis on racialism and “freedom” followed their leader who wore an African-styled cap.

A float depicting the high cost of living and showing a woman vainly trying to recash bananas and other foodstuffs suspended on a stick beyond her reach was one of the foremost floats in the march.  Other floats showed people in hovels surrounded by hoards of children.

Some of the banners read Repatriation Yes” and “Black man time now.” “Racial Equality Now” : Freedom Now” and “Away with Federation.”

Many bearded

Many of the men in the march wore beards, and were dressed in black and green.  Many wore sashes marked “freedom.”

The procession of marchers bicycle riders, floats and motorcars followed a route from Spanish Town Road, up Harris Street, along 7th Street, Thompson Street, Oxford Street, North Parade, East Queen Street, up South Camp Road across Dames Road to the George VI Park.

Along the route the marchers sometimes abused onlookers, shouting cries of “Away with the Imperialist,” “Away with the oppressors, blackman time now.”

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