Manley, Michael

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Manley, Michael

December 10, 1924
March 6, 1997

Michael Norman Manley was born in suburban Kingston, Jamaica, the son of very accomplished parents. His father,

Norman Washington Manley (18931969), was a brilliant lawyer, Rhodes scholar, phenomenal all-round schoolboy athlete, and decorated World War I veteran who later founded a national social welfare commission, led the successful campaigns for universal suffrage and independence, and was posthumously declared a National Hero of Jamaica. His mother, Edna Manley, née Swithenbank (19001987), was an outstanding sculptor and a facilitator and patron of Jamaican arts. Their son grew up under his mother's wings in the enriching environment and milieu of Drumblair, his parents' suburban manor, a Mecca for aspiring young writers and painters, as well as for the legal luminaries, trade unionists, and fledgling politicians who benefited from his father's counsel.


Michael Manley was the first school captain of his preparatory school, and he received his secondary education at the prestigious Jamaica College, where he captained the swimming team to victory in the annual schools championships in 1942. From an early age, Manley took a keen interest in Jamaica's nascent political movement as the democratic socialist People's National Party (PNP), then the only broad-based political organization in Jamaica, was launched in 1938, with his father presiding over the drafting of its constitution and being elected its first president.

While awaiting external examination results at Jamaica College, Michael Manley became involved in a bitter conflict over students' rights with two young Englishmen, one a teacher and the other the headmaster. Refusing to apologize for his utterances, Manley, then a boarding student, packed his bags and left, thereby unwittingly precipitating a two-week students' strike.

Enrolled at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in 1943, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, attaining the rank of pilot officer. After the war, he entered the London School of Economics, where he was tutored by the distinguished democratic socialist theoretician Professor Harold Laski. Manley earned a bachelor's degree in economics and government. He also completed a year's postgraduate study on contemporary political developments in the Caribbean.

Manley was a founding executive of the West Indian Students' Union. He was always in the vanguard of the union's negotiations with the British Colonial Office. He was one of the principal organizers of a strike against the living conditions endured by many Caribbean students in London. He also became a member of the Caribbean Labour Congress. Manley campaigned against racial discrimination in London and supported the movement for a West Indies Federation and political independence for the Anglophone Caribbean.

Manley worked for a year (19501951) as a journalist with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), then returned to Jamaica in December 1951 as associate editor of the socialist weekly newspaper Public Opinion. He was elected to the National Executive Council of the PNP in September 1952. Several powerful members of the PNP were expelled on the grounds that they were more Marxist than democratic socialist, and the leftist-controlled Trade Union Congress was disaffiliated from the party. To fill the void, the PNP leadership swiftly established a more compatible trade union, the National Workers Union (NWU), in 1953.

Trade Union Career

Manley became the sugar supervisor of the new National Workers Union in 1953. In 1955 he was elected island supervisor and first vice president of the NWU. He founded the Caribbean Mine and Metal Workers Federation in 1961 and served as its president for thirteen years.

A legendary trade unionist who brought unprecedented creativity and energy to his work, Manley earned great benefits for NWU-member workers and won acceptance for fundamental principles affecting employer-employee relationships. In 1953 the NWU won recognition of the principle that wages in the bauxite/alumina industry should be based on the companies' ability to pay rather than on parity with other wages. The result was a 300-percent increase in bauxite/alumina workers' wages. In 1962 Manley proved that Jamaica's sugar industry had made $4 million in unreported profits, and he forced a $2.5 million wage increase.

In 1964 Manley led one of the longest strikes in Jamaica's history, following the dismissal of two journalists at the state-owned Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. Contending that the dismissals were arbitrary and unjust, Manley, a handsome six-footer, fearless warrior, and spellbinding orator, now enjoying the status of senator, led a civil-disobedience campaign that resonated throughout Jamaica. When he lay down on Kingston's streets to paralyze peak-hour traffic, he was joined by masses of Jamaicans of all classes, including some of his critics and supporters of the government who were perceived as the instigators of the dismissals. The authorities teargassed demonstrators and refused to negotiate. Manley called a nationwide strike. The government promptly established a Commission of Inquiry, which subsequently ruled in Manley's favor.

Entry into Politics

Manley entered representational politics in the 1967 general election, winning the Central Kingston constituency. After his father's retirement, he comfortably won the contest for party leadership. He was consequently appointed opposition leader in the Jamaica Parliament.

Manley zeroed in on the failings of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration, which had held the reins since independence in 1962. He inveighed against social injustice and inequality, which, he claimed, pervaded Jamaica. While acknowledging significant economic growth in the decade under the JLP government (19621972), Manley contended that the benefits were restricted to a small minority. Too many in the society faced "the blank wall of poverty," he asserted, and he attacked the human-rights record of the administration. Manley advocated a deepening of democracy, donned casual bush-jacket suits, and mobilized reggae artists to write and perform songs that carried his messagePower for the People. Manley's populism and charisma yielded thirty-seven of the fifty-three seats in the House of Representatives in the election held on leap-year day 1972. He was sworn in two days later as Jamaica's fourth prime minister.

Prime Minister Manley

Michael Manley and his government embarked on the most profound and wide-ranging program of social and economic reform in Jamaica's history. Among other legislative measures, they established a national minimum wage, maternity leave with pay, gender equity in pay scales, the right of workers to join trade unions, a land-reform program, a national literacy program, free education to the tertiary level, a law that ended discrimination against children born out of wedlock, and a National Housing Trust that received funds from universal payroll deductions and dispensed benefits by lottery to contributors in need of housing. An inequitable Masters and Servants Act was repealed, as were laws permitting arbitrary arrest and detention of persons on flimsy grounds of suspicion. The government vigorously promoted education, cooperative development, child welfare, community health, women's rights, worker participation, and self-reliance at national and community levels. In promoting self-reliance, Manley often led communities in manual work to provide themselves with social facilities and amenities.

Following the breakdown of negotiations with U.S. multinational corporations for a more equitable share of the proceeds of Jamaican bauxite (aluminum ore), the Manley government imposed a bauxite production levy, which set alarm bells ringing not only among overseas investors but also within the Jamaican business sector.

There was apprehension too when the PNP in November 1974 reaffirmed its democratic socialist philosophy, first adopted in 1940. Although the blueprint included a mixed economy, with a clearly defined role for the private sector, some feared that the government's stated intention to control public utilities and other strategically sensitive entities signaled an encroachment of state capitalism into what was previously regarded as private-sector territory.

Despite a concerted attempt at public education to promote the democratic socialist model nationwide, within Manley's party itself there was a broad spectrum of political ideology ranging from slightly left of center to near-Marxist. Jamaican and foreign investors were rattled by the rhetoric of some of the more radical socialists. Manley's democratic instincts and reflexes would not allow him to silence his left-wingers as some critics urged, which was itself regarded as further evidence of impending communism.

World Statesman

Confusion multiplied as Manley made his mark internationally. Attending the Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Algiers in September 1973, Manley accepted a ride in neighbor Fidel Castro's aircraft. At the conference, he repeated a truism that Che Guevara brought to attention at a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) conference in Rome in 1964that the terms of trade were hopelessly skewed against primary-producing third-world countries of the south and in favor of the industrialized countries of the north, and that it required more and more sugar exports to finance the purchase of a single imported tractor. Manley often repeated this theme and called for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) in which, among other things, prices of primary products and manufactured goods would be indexed against each other. His was a highly respected voice, especially in such bodies as the Commonwealth of Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77, the Socialist International, and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries. In addition, Manley was a vice president and later honorary president (19921997) of the Socialist International and also chair of its Economic Committee.

Manley developed a close bond with the social democrats of northern Europeespecially Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and Norwegian Prime Minister Odvar Nordliwhose brand of socialism was in line with the PNP's. Manley had no difficulty, however, finding common cause with more radical socialists like Cuba's Fidel Castro, whose intellect, humanity, and principled activism he admired. Manley and Castro shared the view that justice must be universal, whether in terms of domestic or international economic relations or the power equations between races.

When in December 1975 U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned Manley not to support Cuba's presence in Angola to defend that country against apartheid South Africa's incursion, Manley declined to commit Jamaica to opposing Cuba's defense of Angola or to neutrality, despite hints that noncompliance would jeopardize urgently needed financial aid. Jamaica, in concert with all of Africa, voted at the United Nations in favor of the Cuban presence in Angola. As a result, the proposed U.S. financial assistance did not materialize, and the number of operatives of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Kingston was promptly doubled.

Manley achieved considerable success in international politics, notably in negotiations leading to Zimbabwe's independence and in bringing pressure on the apartheid system through the isolation of South Africa. However, the domestic and foreign coalition against his government was overwhelming. Investment dried up. Bauxite production declined. Hotels in the vital tourism sector closed their doors. To keep the economy and vital industries alive, Jamaica's cash-strapped government bought hotels and other businesses, further fuelling fears of a communist design. The government, finding the conditionalities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) more and more unacceptable, decided to end its borrowing relationship with the fund and seek an alternative path. Manley turned to the oil-producing Middle Eastern states, whose mobilization of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had enriched them, partly at the expense of non-oil-producing countries like Jamaica. However, the Middle Eastern countries were more interested in investing in the developed North.

Manley's call for an NIEO was tempered by his belief in self-reliance. He became an apostle of "south-south cooperation," citing as an example the possibilities of establishing aluminum smelters and extrusion industries by marrying Jamaican bauxite with the energy derived from oil or natural gas produced by another third-world nation.

Manley was one of six hemispheric heads of government who advised Panamanian President Omar Torrijos in his successful negotiation with the United States of a new treaty to govern the ownership and use of the Panama Canal. He was a principal proponent of a Law of the Sea to provide that the world's ocean resources are harnessed as the common heritage of all humankind. His efforts contributed to the adoption of the Law of the Sea Convention and the location of the International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica.

With the flight of capital and curtailment of investment, economic conditions in Jamaica deteriorated in the 1970s. Amid accusations of destabilization by the CIA, the IMF, foreign investors, the U.S. media, and elements of the domestic business sector and the opposition JLP, politically motivated violence escalated, exacerbating an already problematic situation. Violent crimes became rampant. In June 1976 Manley declared a state of emergency during which there was some curtailment of civil liberties, including the detention of scores of alleged troublemakers. Relative calm returned during the state of emergency. Manley called a general election in December 1976 in which the PNP won forty-seven seats in the sixty-member House of Representatives. Manley's detractors subsequently contended that the state of emergency, which lasted for a year, was designed to entrench his government.

Electoral Defeat and Return to Power

Economic conditions continued worsening after the 1976 general election. So also did politically motivated violence. Manley called a general election in October 1980, at which his party was routed, winning only nine of the sixty seats in the House of Representatives.

Within two years, the impeccably accurate Carl Stone polling organization showed Manley's PNP with a comfortable lead over the JLP. However, the assassination in 1983 of Maurice Bishop, Grenada's revolutionary prime minister, and the subsequent involvement of the Jamaican army in the United Statesled invasion of Grenada, was followed by a dramatic reversal in the opinion polls. Jamaica's JLP prime minister, Edward Seaga, called a snap general election for October 1983. Claiming that voter registration was overdue and that a high proportion of voters would be disfranchised, Manley led a PNP boycott of the election. The JLP won all sixty seats in the House of Representatives. The PNP waged its opposition through "people's forums" all over Jamaica.

In February 1989 Manley was swept back into power by forty-five seats to the JLP's fifteen. However, there was a sea change in his economic policy. Manley admitted that his government of the 1970s had moved too fast in attempting to cure Jamaica's social ills, and that despite a number of effective programs aimed at social and human development, the economy had contracted, resulting in hardship for many Jamaicans. Manley also admitted to the failure of his 1970s government's attempt to unite third-world countries into what he referred to as a trade union of the poor of the world. Manley acknowledged that first-world countries followed their own agenda in the face of new technologies that led to the increasing globalization of the world economy. His prescription for dealing with this new reality was liberalization of the economy and privatization of government assets. Manley argued that new-style democratic socialism would build participatory democracy on the foundation of social justice and broad ownership of the means of production. He believed that socialism had to adapt to changing times but must maintain its commitment to empowerment. After putting the new policy into effect, Manley retired in March 1992 due to ill health.

Manley subsequently worked as a consultant, journalist, coffee farmer, award-winning horticulturist, and distinguished visiting professor at six universities. He died of prostate cancer on March 6, 1997, and was buried in Jamaica's National Heroes Park in Kingston. He was survived by his wife, Glynne, whom he married in 1992, and five children by previous marriagesRachel, Joseph, Sarah, Natasha, and David.

Michael Manley received numerous international honors and awards, mainly for his contributions toward the struggle against South African apartheid, the advocacy of the NIEO, and the deepening of democracy in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Among his honors was a United Nations gold medal and the World Peace Council's Joliot Curie Peace Award. He was the author of seven books on politics, economics, international relations, and the sport of cricket.

See also Manley, Norman; People's National Party


Brandt, Willy, and Michael Manley. Global Challenge, from Crisis to Cooperation: Breaking the North-South Stalemate. London: Pan Books, 1985.

Brown, Wayne. Edna Manley: The Private Years, 19001938. London: Deutsch, 1975.

Kaufman, Michael. Jamaica under Manley: Dilemmas of Socialism and Democracy. London: Zed Books, 1985.

Manley, Michael. The Politics of Change: A Jamaican Testament. London: Deutsch, 1974.

Manley, Michael. A Voice at the Workplace: Reflections on Colonialism and the Jamaican Worker. London: Deutsch, 1975.

Manley, Michael. Up the Down Escalator: Development and the International Economy, a Jamaican Case Study. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1987.

Manley, Michael. The Poverty of Nations: Reflections on Underdevelopment and the World Economy. London: Pluto, 1991.

Manley, Rachel. Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood. Toronto: Knopf, 1996.

Manley, Rachel. Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2000.

Panton, David. Jamaica's Michael Manley: The Great Transformation (197292). Kingston, Jamaica: LMH Books, 1994.

louis marriott (2005)