41 years after Norman Manley

By Michael Burke

Thursday, September 02, 2010    

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Today is the 41st anniversary of the death of National Hero Norman Washington Manley. Many words have been spoken about his integrity and the fact that he went into public life and became a poorer man. Despite the bad name that politics has worldwide, Norman Manley turned the tables on the clergy, especially of the Protestant, Fundamentalist and Evangelical varieties who have become rich out of religion. Norman Manley became poor because of politics.

Norman Manley did not "suffer fools gladly". He was seen to be aloof although his pronouncements and his actions showed that he was genuinely for the people. He had been accused of being against Marcus Garvey when he really was not. The elder Manley was the lawyer for the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation when Garvey lost his seat on the council due to absence longer than the time required to be so without an excuse.

Garvey had actually been absent because he had served a prison sentence. In giving a legal opinion, Norman Manley argued that Garvey's seat was indeed vacant. In the subsequent by-election Garvey ran again and won. But Norman Manley also appeared against some of the members of the People's National Party that he co-founded. There was a Dr Valentine who was a PNP member whom the elder Manley appeared against in court.

For that reason Dr Valentine left the PNP and joined the Jamaica Labour Party. Valentine ran for the JLP in 1944 and lost to Florizel Glasspole. All of this goes to show that Norman Manley was a professional who could differentiate between his work as a lawyer and his views otherwise.

Alexander Bustamante was viewed as the man of the people. As he had founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, the masses of the people were around Bustamante. When Bustamante left the PNP and formed the JLP, he took with him the mass of supporters, which caused the JLP to win a landslide victory in 1944 in which not even Norman Manley won a seat.

The PNP won power in 1955. In 1959 a Canadian named Goldenberg, appointed by Norman Manley while premier of Jamaica, did an inquiry into the conditions of sugar workers. The findings were that the sugar workers' needed improved housing conditions and that the workers' wages should be set at a higher figure.

We will follow Bustamante till we die, the people sang. But did he do more for the poor than Norman Manley? Analysing the Goldenburg report in A Voice at the Workplace in 1975, Michael Manley - the son of Norman Manley - would write that in the 20 years before that, all that had been done for sugar workers by Bustamante's efforts were that the sugar workers could "buy an extra pack of cigarettes each week".

What Norman Manley did for all Jamaicans was far more than being able to "buy an extra pack of cigarettes each week". The real improvements in the sugar industry took place after the Goldenberg commission of 1959 set up by Norman Manley. Prior to his entry into politics Norman Manley established Jamaica Welfare in 1937. With his later political involvement Norman Manley started many empowerment programmes, including free education.

Yet it was Norman Manley who was pilloried as being aloof and being against Marcus Garvey. But Norman Manley was very much in favour of Garvey and of black beauty. The elder Manley's writings in favour of black beauty are included in the late Rex Nettleford's Manley and the New Jamaica, published in 1973. And Norman Manley supported his wife who was a sculptor of black people.

While more has been written on members of the Manley family than any other Jamaican family, not enough has been written about Norman Manley the social worker. The earlier policies of the PNP reflected the Norman Manley vision as set out in Jamaica Welfare, which would eventually evolve into the Social Development Commission.

The problem today is that the PNP has moved too far away from the Norman Manley vision. For example, some statements against free education made by PNP parliamentarians must have Norman Manley "turning in his grave". Norman Manley's PNP should never criticise the concept of free education. Instead, the PNP should use the JLP's transformation from a preference to saltfish in Bustamante's time to that of education in more recent times as an effective campaign strategy.

I know the practical problems of free education and it has to be rationalised. One main problem with it is that when education is free, schools have to rely totally on government grants which are not always forthcoming. But education should not be free without some form of compulsory national service by the students.

Another area of concern is the Beach Control Authority. Our best beaches, which were accessible to the public since 1955, have undergone some retrogression since the 1990s. The current PNP needs to look at its policies and compare them to what Norman Manley would have done.





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