Columns

25 years after Manley's return

Michael BURKE

Thursday, February 13, 2014    

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THIS past Sunday, February 9, marked 25 years since the victory of the People's National Party in the elections of 1989. It signalled the return of Michael Manley as prime minister. Michael Manley retired in 1992 and died in 1997. Today, February 13, marks 25 years after Michael Manley was sworn in as prime minister for the third and last time.

In the 1970s Michael Manley spouted democratic socialism. When he returned, he was spouting free enterprise. In the 1970s Michael Manley wore bush jackets. When he returned, he wore a suit and tie.

However, Michael Manley said in the last interview that he ever did before his death that he would always remain a socialist.

But politics is the business of acquiring and using power. And the way to acquire power in different eras is as different as the cost of living from one day to the next. As Otto Von Bismarck said, "politics is the art of the possible".

Michael Manley was really the 'printout' of the ideas and plans of his father, Norman Washington Manley. The Jamaica Welfare Limited, later Jamaica Social Welfare Commission and presently Social Development Commission, was the microcosm of all the social plans of Norman Manley. Within this entity there was a rural housing section, an adult literacy section, a youth camp section for skills training, a cultural section, and a section that helped with agricultural education, among others. All of these sections became statutory bodies or public sector companies on their own in the 1970s.

When Michael Manley came to power in 1972, there was the establishment of free education, the introduction of the minimum wage Bill, the establishment of the National Housing Trust, the removal of the bastardy law, and the list goes on.

In the 1970s, diplomatic ties with Cuba were strengthened and diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union were established. This was in the midst of the cold war between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Any ties with communist Soviet Union and its Caribbean ally Cuba were frowned upon by the United States of America. The fact that Michael Manley had cause to declare US ambassador Vincent de Roulet persona non grata made matters worse.

By the end of 1973 the oil crisis started and all of a sudden more of Jamaica's precious foreign exchange became tied up in the buying of oil for energy. The bauxite levy was introduced in 1974 and it was used to finance free education. From the 1960s there had been talk that the US bauxite companies were getting away with too much.

Initially, the bauxite companies paid 10 cents a ton for bauxite, as imposed by the then chief minister Alexander Bustamante. It rose to 14 cents by Norman Manley. If Jamaica wanted to purchase the finished product (aluminum) we had to pay a lot of money.

In his book To follow right, Ewart Walters stated that destabilisation in the 1970s started after the bauxite levy in 1974. But in his book Struggle in the Periphery, Michael Manley did not boil it down to a single factor. The pressure really started after the strengthening of ties with Cuba, then an ally of the Soviet Union, where the USA concentrated all of their cold war efforts.

In January 1975, the Government led by Michael Manley changed the land tax system so that the wealthier people paid more than the poor. Previously everyone paid the same land tax.

Michael Manley wrote a letter to me less than a year before he died. He explained that the land tax issue was the initial cause of the flight of the upper classes and their capital from Jamaica, not when he made his famous "five flights a day to Miami" speech later that year as I had written in an article in the now defunct Jamaica Herald in 1996.

In January 1976 there were unexplained fires in Trench Town. At the same time the International Monetary Fund was meeting in Kingston complete with news reporters from over all the world. The news reports all over the world of the Trench Town fires created serious damage to the tourist industry. Nevertheless, the PNP won the December 15, 1976 election on a democratic socialist platform.

By January 1977, Michael Manley announced new taxes and monetary restrictions in keeping with IMF regulations. Already there were very old cars on the roads because of the foreign exchange crisis caused by the oil crisis. It was a time the cheapest new car was a sign of great wealth, and even owning car at all was sign of some affluence.

By 1979, there was a barter arrangement with the Soviet Union, where Jamaica exchanged raw bauxite dirt for Russian Lada cars. But even that could not turn back the growing disenchantment that would manifest itself in the elections of October 30, 1980. Of the 60 available seats, the PNP managed to win only nine.

In his book Jamaica's Michael Manley: The great transformation 1972-92, David Panton wrote of the appraisal committee formed by the PNP to look into the reasons why they lost the 1980 elections. Certain recommendations were made regarding changes to the PNP's outlook. Panton also mentions that D K Duncan was asked to resign as general secretary by Michael Manley because certain business interests would not support the PNP with funds with him there.

In the 1980s, the entire world had changed. The cold war was on its way out and would finally end in 1992. The socialist bloc on which the Manley Government depended for support would become capitalist, and Jamaica had to fall in line for purposes of trade, loans and grants.

And Michael Manley himself not only changed his rhetoric, but also wore suits to show that he had changed. It had happened before in the history of the PNP. The socialist rhetoric was toned down after the expulsion of the so-called Four Hs in 1952, and again after the expulsion of the Young Socialists in 1964. But this last time, the unfortunate thing about that was, in returning to the old order, some of the old class prejudice returned.

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