Michael Manley — the visionary who will never be

Michael Manley — the visionary who will never be


Saturday, December 13, 2014

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December 10, 2014 marked 90 years since Michael Manley's birth.
Despite his passing 17 years ago, his lifework still remains extremely topical and forms part of our national discourse every so often, by friends and foes alike.
At different times throughout his life he served as:
• Prime Minister of Jamaica (1972 to 1980 and again from 1989 to 1992)
•    Leader of the Opposition (1969 to 1971 and 1980 to 1989)
•    President of the People's National Party (1969 to 1992)
•    Member of the National Workers' Union, at various levels, for over 20 years.
During his over 40 years in public life, his contribution to local, regional and international politics was, without question, one of the most enlightened, profound and impactful.
Michael Manley (affectionately called Joshua) was one of the most accomplished and outstanding political figures in the post-colonial history of Jamaica and the Caribbean. He constantly explored new ideas and implemented strategies to give every Jamaican a role in the process of national development.  
His political activism could not be contained or confined within the geographical space of Jamaica. His vision, his reach and his influence were global in dimension.
National polls
When Manley died in 1997, approximately 67.9 per cent of the Jamaican people believed he should be made a national hero. Up to three years after his death, the revered Carl Stone polls had him as the prime minister who, by far, had done the most to improve the socio-cultural, political and economic conditions for the majority, and to help muster national consciousness among the people.
His love by the people was further captured in a poll on March 16, 2006, nine years after his death, which showed that 49 per cent of the people said that of the six prime ministers up to that time, he was the best. The prime minister who came second got 34 per cent.
It is not unusual to meet people inside and outside of Jamaica who unhesitatingly and unapologetically describe themselves as a product of the Michael Manley era. This is usually said as a way of validating levels of social consciousness.
Michael Manley's philosophy was embodied in the notion of equality and justice and by the time he became prime minister in March 1972, at the age of 47, his philosophy had taken full shape.
His passionate commitment to equality and justice was reflected in every cause he pursued. Whether the immediate concern was education, industrial relations, racism, gender equity, national security, self-reliance, the deepening of democracy, foreign policy, sports, culture, the arts or any other issue in which he was absorbed, his outlook could always be traced to the wellspring of equality and justice.
His legacy
Michael Manley's legacy in Jamaica is legendary.  
He has left us a raft of accomplishments. These include, but are not limited to: Labour Day; Community Health Aid; the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18; the National Youth Service; Family Court; the compulsory recognition of trade unions; the National Minimum Wage; equal pay for women doing the same job as men; the appointment of the first woman permanent secretary and the first woman ambassador; the Jamaica School of Art, Music, Drama and Dance (now the Edna Manley College); community colleges; the National Housing Trust; student councils; community councils; the Copyright Law; Maternity Leave with pay; the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) now the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL); worker participation; the start of the Portmore Housing Scheme; the GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, and finally, the building of more houses than at any other time in the history of Jamaica.
Pro-active internationalism
On the regional and international scenes, Michael Manley was a force to be reckoned with.  
His belief in the importance of regional integration led him to be one of four Heads of Government to sign the Treaty of Chaguaramas which brought the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) into being in 1973.  
As pointed out elsewhere by Professor Denis Benn, “Michael Manley was a true internationalist who understood the complex interplay among national, regional and global processes. He was an articulate and persuasive spokesman in fora such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77.  
“Indeed, during the 1970s and 1980s, Manley became the most articulate voice on behalf of the developing world in championing the cause of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) which dominated the international economic agenda during the period. Almost single-handedly, he challenged the forces of oppression both at home and abroad".
During his period in office,he deepened and strengthened, despite the opposition from certain political quarters, Jamaica's relationship with, among others, Cuba, China, Venezuela, South Africa, Russia and China. Not only does Jamaica now enjoy warm fraternal relations with these countries, but the Jamaican economy has also benefited from large projects from some of these countries.   
Faced challenges
Michael Manley faced many challenges during his period of leadership. I will mention only three.    
First, his re-introduction of democratic socialism as the PNP's ideological platform in 1974 was described by one writer as his 'most controversial step'.
Manley found himself wedged between those on the political right who wrongly criticised him for trying to introduce 'communism' and those on the far left of the political spectrum who, in many instances, opportunistically criticised him for being too soft.
The charges and counter charges deepened the ideological polarisation in the society and made it extremely difficult for him to develop and maintain a unified position among the people.
The second challenge was economic. Throughout Manley's time in Government he was always extremely critical of the economic inequalities that existed in the society. The economy, despite his policy of nationalisation and the introduction of the bauxite levy, never kept pace with the introduction of social policies and legislations; many of which, for the first time at last, gave the masses equal status in the society.
Manley's economic programme was further compounded by the fact that he had to deal with an oil crisis in 1973, the global recession of 1973 -1975 and a second oil crisis in 1979.
The forces opposed to Manley's desire to restructure the economy in order to address the existing economic inequalities were relentless in their opposition to his policies. They did everything to destabilise the Government of the day.
Another challenge Manley faced, certainly in the period of the 1970s, was the opposition by powerful international forces to many of his policies, especially his support for Cuba.
Local forces opposed to Michael Manley found common cause with such forces outside of Jamaica. The twin combination of local and international opposition made it difficult for Manley to maintain his assault on economic and social inequalities in the society.
Michael Manley and the PNP lost the elections in 1980 largely because he and his Third World colleagues could not shift the First World from its stranglehold on the world economic system, and he was unable to persuade the power-brokers in Jamaica that the old order needed to be changed.
His return to Government in 1989
In February 1989, Michael Manley and the PNP were returned as Government.
In response to his electoral defeat of 1980 and the shift in global development, with market forces assuming a more dominant role, Manley's policy shifted from stateism to a more liberal outlook.
For Manley, the role of the state had to be different. The state, he asserted, must become the servant of the people, not the master, and must be the enabler or the facilitator.
For him to have been able to shift his position so drastically without causing an irreversible split within the PNP, reflected both his power of persuasion as well as his ability to rethink issues.
After putting his new policy into effect, Manley retired from public office in 1992 and moved on to greater glory when he died in 1997.
The challenge of today
Michael Manley represented most of what is good about Jamaica. He had a genuine care and concern for the people. He had real courage and a willingness to confront more powerful countries and institutions in defence of his pursuit of equality and justice on behalf of the people of Jamaica.
Joshua dreamt of a better Jamaica — a Jamaica in which every person, irrespective of social, economic, religious, or political orientation, would have a chance to contribute fully, and to share equitability, in a world where we protect each other from all forms of injustice and oppression.
Our challenge today is to find the right mix of policies and the courage and determination to ensure that the just and prosperous society which Michael Manley fought for is achieved sooner rather than later.

Delano Franklyn is an attorney-at-Law and Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

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