Jamaica Labour Party

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Jamaica Labour Party

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is one of the two remaining political parties in Jamaica. Its influence upon Jamaica is due primarily to the skillful leadership of William Alexander Clarke, otherwise known as Alexander Bustamante. Bustamante was born in Blenheim in the parish of Hanover, Jamaica, on February 24, 1884, and migrated to Cuba in 1905 at the age of twenty-one.

After Bustamante returned from Cuba in 1934 he wrote frequent letters to the Jamaican newspapers, most of them focusing on topical issues and demonstrating his concern for the condition of poor black laborers. By 1937 he had developed such a large readership that he could turn most of his attention to traveling and holding small private meetings in response to the incidence of labor riots on the island. At one meeting in Kingston, Bustamante charged that he was attacked because of his support for improvement in the working conditions of the masses. By then his magnetic personality and charisma endeared him to his followers. On May 23, 1938, he addressed a large crowd of striking workers under Queen Victoria's statue in South Parade, Kingston. Security forces moved in to break up the crowd, and Bustamante challenged them to shoot him instead of the workers he led. He and other labor leaders were arrested. His pugnacity, however, cemented his place in their hearts and minds and many became his ardent supporters.

Birth and Development

Bustamante, to be sure, was not the founder of Jamaica's first political party. Dr. Robert Love's People's Convention of 1894 and Marcus Garvey's People's Political Party of 1929 were two of Jamaica's earlier political parties. Both parties had only limited success because their leaders preached a message of black nationalism, which was not appealing to the middle class. In addition, both individuals were staunchly opposed by British colonial officials. The Moyne Report, commissioned by the British government regarding the labor riots of the 1930s, however, advocated sweeping political reforms. As a result, the masses, along with trade unions, could openly participate in the political process. This led to several black intellectuals organizing the first "legitimate" political party, the People's National Party (PNP), on September 18, 1938, led by Norman Manley, one of Jamaica's most eminent barristers. The PNP sought a political union of the middle and lower classes. It relied on the charismatic and influential Bustamante to lead a trade union of workers as an auxiliary organization. By the end of June 1938, Bustamante launched his union, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), from a merger of five others. The growth of the BITU was so rapid that within two months its membership more than doubled.

The colonial authorities in Jamaica realized that Bustamante had become a dangerous political agitator because his trade union activities were unorthodox but very effective. They arrested him a second time and incarcerated him for seventeen months. His release on February 8, 1942, is shrouded in controversy, since some scholars argue that the government released him to form a political party in opposition to the PNP, which had become allegedly prosocialist. On July 8, 1943, Bustamante launched the Jamaica Labour Party.

In Jamaica's first general elections held under universal adult suffrage on December 14, 1944, the JLP defeated the PNP by capturing twenty-three of the thirty-two seats to the PNP's fourindependent candidates captured the other five. Bustamante then became Jamaica's first chief minister. The JLP was reelected with a national majority in 1949 but was defeated by the PNP in the elections of 1955 and 1959. The JLP defeated the PNP on the referendum to determine Jamaica's future in the West Indies Federation on September 19, 1961, and in the 1962 general elections, which led Jamaica into political independence. Since postindependence the JLP has only formed the government from 1967 to 1972 and from 1980 to 1988.

Organizational Structure

The highest decision-making body in the JLP is the annual national conference, which is made up of delegates from all over the country. At this conference the leader/president of the party and deputy leaders are chosen and major changes to the party's constitution, policy, and organizational structure are ratified. The next highest body is the Central Executive, which is chaired by the chairman of the JLP and administers the party's affairs during the year, normally meeting quarterly. Elections for other important posts, such as trustees, secretaries, treasurers, and the party's chairman, are done at the Central Executive level. This body has the power to appoint candidates and caretakers for constituencies and parish council divisions, as well as members of subcommittees. It comprises the chairman of the party and all the secretaries, along with the president, deputy leaders, elected parliamentarians, senators, and leaders of the affiliate organizations, such as the BITU, the G2K (the youth arm of the party), and the JLP's National Women's Organization.

The Standing Committee consists of officers of the party and chairmen of national committees. This committee acts for and reports to the Central Executive and meets as required. The Standing Committee, which is chaired by the JLP's chairman, supervises the work of over fifteen national committees. These include Finance, BITU, Disciplinary Organizational Policy, Legal and Constitutional, Public Relations, Property, Equipment, Campaign, Membership, Electoral, Selection, and International Relations. The Area Council leaders, who are the deputy leaders of

the party, also sit on the Standing Committee. On a micro level, the party is organized into four Area Councils, each of which has its own secretariat and is managed by one of the four deputy leaders of the party. Each Area Council is subdivided into around fifteen constituencies.


The party is funded predominantly by the business community and through fund-raising activities. Each constituency is expected to raise its own funds through membership fees and other means. Each constituency elects a management team consisting of persons in the following areas: finance, campaign, and public relations. These persons raise the necessary funds to carry out the programs of the constituency and by extension the party.

To ensure that the JLP remains solvent on the macro level it operates a trust company (Greenbelt Trust) through its trustees. The treasurers of the JLP also ensure that income from the trust company and from financial contributions are well spent, since proceeds from the business community and from membership fees are not always consistent.

Foreign Policy

The JLP is primarily a conservative party and not fully a labor party in the traditional sense, as is the British Labour Party. The JLP is thus aligned with other conservative political parties around the world, such as the Republican Party in the United States. It also shares with other conservative governments a faith in a market economy and in small or minimal state ownership. Any government entity that is not most essential for the state to manage has to be privatized, since the JLP views the private sector as the main engine for national development.

As an example of the JLP's conservative links, a German conservative party, the National Democratic Union, funds their political think tank, the Jamaica Institute for Political Education. It is responsible for initiating research and utilizing the services of independent scholars to draft papers in relation to political education, public policy, and changes in social, economic, and political thought.


The conservative politics of the JLP led to its heading the campaign for Jamaica's withdrawal from the West Indies Federation in 1961. The party advocated independence and an alliance with Western democracies, since it felt that the Federation's leaders were pro-socialism. Currently, the JLP supports a limited Caribbean integration but remains highly critical of an emerging Caribbean Court, which would replace the British Privy Council. It also opposes any attempt to recreate a federation of the islands.

See also Bustamante, Alexander; Manley, Norman; Moyne Commission; People's National Party; West Indies Federation


Brown, Orville. The History of the Jamaica Labour Party. Unpublished document, JLP headquarters, Kingston, Jamaica, 1986.

Bustamante, Gladys. The Memoirs of Lady Bustamante. Kingston, Jamaica: Kingston Publishers, 1997.

Eaton, George E. Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Kingston Publishers, 1975.

Hamilton, B. St. J. Bustamante: Anthology of a Hero. Kingston: Jamaica: Publication and Productions, Ltd., 1977.

Ramocan, George. Interview by Dave Gosse, August 15, 2004.

Ranston, Jackie. From We Were Boys: The Story of the Magnificent Cousins, Manley and Bustamante. Kingston, Jamaica: Bustamante Institute of Public and International Affairs, 1989.

Seaga, Edward. The Fiftieth Year Anniversary of the Jamaica Labour Party. Kingston, Jamaica: Jamaica Institute of Political Education, 1983.

Shearer, Hugh. Alexander Bustamante: Portrait of a Hero. Unpublished document, JLP headquarters, Kingston, Jamaica, n.d.

dave st. a. gosse (2005)