Norman Manley and SDC

Thursday, July 05, 2012    

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The Social Development Commission is the current name for what started as Jamaica Welfare 75 years ago in 1937. Yesterday was the 119th birthday of Jamaica Welfare founder, National Hero Norman Washington Manley. It is to be noted that Jamaica Welfare was formed before Norman Manley decided to go into politics. Jamaica Welfare came about in 1937 and the People's National Party was founded in 1938. In any case the real founder of the PNP was Osmond Theodore Fairclough, its first general secretary.

But Norman Manley definitely founded Jamaica Welfare, and this should be highlighted, especially this year. The contribution of the Social Development Commission to rural development in Jamaica is a story that needs to be told. It is definitely a forerunner to Jamaica's Independence. I understand that there are plans to mark the 75th anniversary of SDC. I really hope that something is done, but I suspect that the current management of SDC knows very little about SDC history and can at best plan only a party but not events that would highlight its history.

By the 1930s, bananas were as much a part of the economic mainstay of Jamaica as was sugar cane. What have bananas to do with the history of Jamaica Welfare (now Social Development Commission)? The answer is "Everything". And if you were mentally asking that question when you read the first sentence of this paragraph, then it clearly confirms the need for the history of Jamaica Welfare to be told. Now back to the story of bananas as part of the economic mainstay of Jamaica in the 1930s.

The bauxite industry in the 1930s was non-existent. Tourism was a struggling industry with very few hotels that actually came out of the United Fruit Company that bought bananas from Jamaica. True, the first attempt at tourism was in 1891 with the Great Exhibition (staged where Wolmer's Boys School is currently located). But tourism did not take off as a result of the Great Exhibition. The real development of tourism has been since Independence in 1962.

Norman Manley was the attorney for the Jamaica Banana Producers Co-operative. In the 1930s, a plant disease wiped out the banana industry in Jamaica. The rural peasants then started the first massive rural-urban drift ever in the history of the country. This caused problems in Kingston and further problems for the banana industry, as the workers were needed to plant a different species of banana that would be resistant to the disease.

It was Norman Manley who formulated a plan to reverse the rural-urban drift. He got the United Fruit Company to give a penny for every bunch of bananas bought towards rural development, and the fund was administered by a company called Jamaica Welfare Limited. The company was instrumental in establishing all sorts of cottage industries around the island.

Jamaica Welfare organised Jamaican folk songs on 78 rpm records (the main recording method of the day). They got Harry Belafonte to record the Banana Boat Song and Jamaica Farewell. This was the forerunner to the commissioning of Olive Lewin's research on Jamaican folk songs in the 1960s. Jamaica Welfare set up a literacy programme. This was the forerunner to the JAMAL programme (today called the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning). Jamaica Welfare also started self-help housing.

And Jamaica Welfare promoted service co-operatives. They would make a link with the credit unions as founded by the Roman Catholic Church just as they did with housing as the Roman Catholic Church founded the first housing scheme in Jamaica (at Homestead, in Bamboo, St Ann).

During the Second World War, Great Britain and its allies had gun power, but were running out of food. It was to Jamaica that they turned for food and the only organisation that could organise the food effort was Jamaica Welfare. It was turned into a statutory body by the colonial government, known as Jamaica Social Welfare Commission.

In retrospect, would England and its allies have won the war without food from Jamaica which was organised by Jamaica Welfare? And if England did not win the war, would we be politically independent today, even if our new colonial masters would have been Germany? Food for thought!

When Norman Manley came to power, JSWC (later SDC) was mandated to establish youth camps to train poor boys in skills. A girls' camp was later established. In later years all of them were co-ed and in the 1980s Edward Seaga as prime minister (who as minister of development and welfare in the early 1960s changed the name to SDC) turned the youth camps into the HEART programme.

Last week, the lone responder on Jamaica Observer online to my column last week, "Clifford Campbell born 120 years ago" was incorrect about Rudolph Burke's occupation. The late Rudolph Burke (my grandfather) was a farmer and a politician, but not a lawyer. Rudolph Burke's son, the late Keith Burke, my father, was a lawyer.





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