Columns

Manley and leap year day 1972

MICHAEL BURKE

Thursday, March 01, 2012    

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Yesterday, leap year day February 29 was 40 years since the general election of 1972 that brought the People's National Party led by Michael Manley to power. No doubt many will point to the fact that never before were so many social programmes started in such a short space of time (eight years and eight months 1972-80). There were profound attempts to empower the poor in this country so that, in the words of Michael Manley, "the domestic helper could walk through the front door". Free education was introduced. The National Housing Trust was established. Equal pay for equal work among men and women was established. The law of illegitimacy, which barred children born out of wedlock from inheriting land, was abolished. And so the list goes on ad infinitum.

It was not all of the social programmes that worked and in the end the government of the United States viewed the Michael Manley government with suspicion. The PNP lost power in 1980, but in 1989 Michael Manley led the PNP to power once again. He stepped down finally in 1992. Very few, however, might see the connection between Jamaica Welfare, founded by Michael Manley's father Norman Manley in 1937. Norman Manley also was the first president of the PNP which was founded in 1938. Jamaica Welfare was the first body which made a concerted and organised attempt to found co-operatives throughout Jamaica.

And all of Michael Manley's programmes in the 1970s were really the fleshing out of the old Jamaica Welfare programmes, which is the central point that I am making today. So whatever gratitude is shown to Michael Manley should be for expanding his father's programmes and ideas. As a crown colony in the days before Universal Adult Suffrage which came in 1944, this was the only way in which a programme like this could exist and it could only be done in a limited way. A debt of gratitude is therefore owed to Norman Manley.

Jamaica Welfare, which became Jamaica Social Welfare Commission during the Second World War, evolved into Social Development commission in the 1960s. More important, Social Development commission, as it is called today, celebrates 75 years this year although its first name was Jamaica Welfare. The diamond anniversary needs to be celebrated. Why isn't Jamaica Welfare mentioned more in the history textbooks? It was one of the manifestations of the nationalism which was at its peak from the mid-1930s onwards.

The Jamaica Banana Producers Co-operative was founded in the 1920s. By the time of its founding, banana production had just about equalled sugar production in monetary terms for the economy of Jamaica. By the mid-1920s, Norman Manley was the lawyer for the co-operative. In the 1930s a plant disease killed out the banana industry in Jamaica. It was therefore necessary to plant another type of banana but the workers kept leaving the countryside and filling up the towns searching for odd jobs. Indeed, the joblessness was part of the cause of the riots in 1938, but that is another matter.

It was Norman Manley who wrote Sam Zemurray of the United Fruit Company and asked him to set up a fund for the Jamaica Banana Producers Co-operative. Zemurray did not like co-operatives, but in the end he agreed to give one penny for every bunch of bananas placed on the boat. This fund was known as Jamaica Welfare. It had paid staff that went into the communities to organise co-operative businesses. Jamaica Welfare taught the people different types of craftwork and got sales for the craft. They had the "each-one-teach-one" literacy programme. By 1972, prior to the start of the national literacy programme, which evolved into JAMAL, there was at least one class in every parish.

Jamaica Welfare set up self-help housing and had programmes where they taught rural people health care. During the Second World War, Jamaica Welfare was utilised to organise food from Jamaica for the war effort. This was when Jamaica Welfare changed to Jamaica Social Welfare Commission. By 1955 there were youth camps that taught skills first to boys alone, then to boys and girls separately then boys and girls together in the youth community training centres as they were called in the 1970s.

As the Michael Manley-led PNP government of the 1970s fleshed out the small programmes of Jamaica Welfare-turned SDC, it reproduced by a sort of binary fission like the amoeba, as one programme after another was removed from SDC to stand on its own and be expanded. The relatively small literacy programme became a separate programme. Self-help housing turned into the National Housing Trust. The co-operative push of SDC was fleshed out into Community Enterprises of the 1970s. The farmers' produce programmes became the Land Lease Programme. In the 1980s the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party government converted the youth camps that had evolved into skills training centres into the HEART programme.

ekrubm765@yahoo.com

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