Columns

When Norman Manley won and lost a referendum (Part 1)

LANCE NEITA

Sunday, July 27, 2014    

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1953 was an active year for pioneer bauxite/alumina activities in Jamaica. Early in the year, on January 7, Alumina Jamaica (later known as Alcan), made its first alumina shipment, 2,300 tons, 'packed in stout paper bags', on the SS Trident, from Railroad Pier No 3 in Kingston.

Reynolds had already shipped its first bauxite cargo on June 5, 1952, and dedicated its plant and shipping pier on January 9, 1953.

Kaiser Bauxite Company made its first shipment from Port Kaiser on the Manchester /St Elizabeth border on February 9, 1953.

But soon after going into production in St Elizabeth, Kaiser had concluded that existing markets would gradually exceed south coast production and so turned its eye on bauxite resources in St Ann.

In 1956, Kaiser bought Discovery Bay Estates from a business magnate and opened Puerto Seco Beach to the public. The property also included the Columbus Inn Hotel, which had been opened in 1949 in step with other visionary tourism pioneers like the Ewens of Montego Bay and the banana shipping tycoons in Port Antonio.

The Columbus Inn, a luxury hotel, was said to have been built in the soft but elegant lines of Swedish apartments adapted for tropical comfort by the famous Macy's of New York, closed for whatever reasons after only a few years in existence.

But Discovery Bay had other strong tourism investment interests. And, as Kaiser began to make its impending presence felt on the north coast environs, traditionally reserved for those who could afford the villas and laid-back lifestyle, the local plantocrats began lining up to do battle to keep out the heavy industry from upsetting the status quo.

Tourism interests and villa owners began to wage a campaign urging Discovery Bay residents to speak out against industry plans for the area, and a small group from the so-called owner class went as far as to encourage their employees to picket the Kaiser operations.

But the residents, fully aware of the potential and wider employment and income opportunities from the coming industry, objected to the covert movements by those they realised wanted only to protect their individual interest. They stoutly refused to comply with the requests to demonstrate against the company. And this is how the story of Norman Manley's first referendum developed.

A group of young men, fighting pressure from the landed class to divert the industry away from Discovery Bay, decided to invite the chief minister, Norman Manley, to intervene in the community dispute.

"I believe that it was in 1958 that we sent him the invitation," recalled Lloyd Chin, then a young trade unionist.

A public meeting was called to welcome Manley, and banners proclaiming "We want Kaiser Bauxite" stretched across the road, as in one of the great untold stories of the industry, Manley drove up in his Studebaker to meet the residents.

A huge crowd swept into the tiny Discovery Bay market where the chief minister was given a hero's welcome and hoisted unto a market stall. "It was unforgettable," recalled another eye witness, "as people from every district around, including Liberty Hill, Runaway Bay, Queenhythe, Old Folly, Keith, Red Valley, and even Brown's Town came out to give their support".

The chief minister went straight to the point, explaining the huge benefits that would accrue from bauxite "in partnership with tourism". And, as he wound up his address, he asked for a referendum on the question: "Do you want the bauxite industry to come to Discovery Bay or not?"

The answer was a resounding 'yes', the meeting broke out into cheers and applause, and Manley had come out on the right side of a referendum, which put the question of stalling the industry's passage into Discovery Bay to a convincing rest.

History will show that Discovery Bay remains the only bauxite industry host community where the company has enjoyed uninterrupted operations, barring periods lost to industrial disputes. Kaiser and successive companies in Discovery Bay can boast of more than two generations of residents who have worked at the plant and mines.

Three years later, in 1961, Manley was to face yet another referendum challenge, this time as he squared off with his cousin Sir Alexander Bustamante over the Federation issue.

As we countdown towards yet another Emancipation and Independence day celebration in a few day's time, it is always instructive to look back at the tumultuous events in Jamaica in the early 1960s which led to the first Independence Day, August 6, 1962. And it was that 1961 referendum which was the time bomb, the finger that triggered the final march towards stepping out on our own as a sovereign nation.

This time Manley was to hear no to his question; a resounding no which has stuck in the craw of the People's National Party ever since, as the 'Referendum no, Jamaica yes" decision was also the moment in history that denied them the opportunity to lead Jamaica into Independence.

For those who came in late, here in brief is what happened.

We must start with the Federation, when the British Government, after years of persuasion, and eager to relinquish responsibility in the wake of the gradual break-up of the British Empire, finally corralled the British West Indies leaders in the mid 1950s into agreeing to form a political union.

While the two Jamaican leaders, 'Busta' and Manley, were in agreement on the principle at the initial meeting convened by Britain at the Montego Bay conference in 1947, it had always been touch and go, with Manley as an ardent supporter and Busta lukewarm to the idea. Indeed he had earlier warned against "a federation of paupers, foisted on us by Britain to escape her ancient responsibilities".

He gave his full backing at the conference, but watched suspiciously as Manley, who had defeated him to take over as chief minister in 1955, went on to hasten the pace towards full federation in consort with Eric Williams of Trinidad and Grantley Adams of Barbados.

But the dissenting factors were slowly coming to light. By 1956 it had become obvious that Britain was not in a hurry to elevate the Federation to dominion status. Another stumbling block was the mounting pressure from the other Caribbean leaders to institute a levy on customs duties on all the islands, a step which would have had a negative impact on Jamaica's revenue income.

It was at this point that Busta began to position himself as defending Jamaica's interests against what he called 'the smugness and political cunning "of the 'small islanders'.

He fired off an historic cable to the JLP spokesman at a conference being held in London in 1956 to map out a forward path strategy towards Federation. "Do not agree to one penny increase in taxation of any kind. It cannot be Federation at the expense of greater poverty."

It could be said that this was a shot that could be heard around the Caribbean. It signalled the start of a growing disenchantment at home that Busta was to use to try to isolate his arch-rival who was being touted as the Caribbean's favourite choice for Federal prime minister in the first federal elections which had been called for March 25, 1958.

But Manley side-stepped that tactic by announcing on January 15, 1958, that he would stay in Jamaica rather than seek to become the first prime minister of the West Indies.

In preparation for the elections, two regional political parties were organised, the West Indies Federal Labour Party (WIFLP) led by Norman Manley, and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) led by Bustamante.

The DLP won 12 of the Federal seats in Jamaica to the WIFLP's five, but it was nevertheless Manley's party that won the majority vote among the other islands and formed the first government headquartered at Chaguaramas in Trinidad - the site had been another sore point for Jamaicans. And the prime minister's seat, long reserved for Manley, was filled instead by Sir Grantley Adams of Barbados.

But, following the Federal elections, Busta continued to 'turn up the thing' against Federation, accusing Manley of misleading the public on the implications to Jamaica of a Caribbean union, and in a Gleaner advertisement on November 1958, he made the first call for Jamaica's secession from Federation if certain conditions were not met.

By January 1959 Busta was fully on the warpath, inviting Manley to join the JLP to overthrow the Grantley Adams Federal Government. Manley, backed up in a corner, pleaded to allow Jamaica to present a united front.

Manley felt somewhat vindicated when the PNP was returned to power in the 1959 elections in Jamaica, but Busta would not let up, sensing that Federation was still unpopular in Jamaica. The pressure was on, with the JLP's D C Tavares proposing in the House of Representatives that a referendum should be called to provide an opportunity for Jamaicans to express whether or not Jamaica should remain in the Federation.

Now Tavares' proposal was a full six months before Manley made his own historic announcement on August 3 that a referendum would indeed be held on September 19, 1961, the anniversary of the founding of the People's National Party.

Was Manley heading for another favourable referendum decision? A further column will describe the events leading up to Independence over a period unmatched for the action, debates, controversies, surprises, triumphs, and disappointments, which characterised the then political landscape.

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications professional. Comments to the Observer or to lanceneita@hotmail.com

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