People's National Party

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People's National Party

The People's National Party (PNP) is one of the two leading political parties in Jamaica and one of the most important in the African diaspora. It was founded on September 18, 1938, one year before the beginning of World War II, and first came to political power in 1955 while Jamaica was still a British colony.

The PNP was one of the many political parties that arose in the first half of the twentieth century in those nations struggling for independence from British colonial rule. It was strongly influenced by the earlier ideological struggles of Marcus Garvey (18871940), the anticolonial struggles in Africa, and the struggles of the Indian National Congress. More than any other political party in Jamaica's history, the PNP championed the goal of democratic elections under universal adult suffrage and political independence for Jamaica as the basic preconditions for the emancipation of the people, who are overwhelmingly of African descent.

The PNP was formed primarily by leaders of the black and brown Jamaican middle classes; lawyers, doctors, teachers, and journalists were heavily represented at its launching. Chief among these was Norman Washington Manley (18931969), the leading lawyer in the country at that time and the party president from its inception in 1938 until his death in 1969. He was succeeded as president of the PNP by his son, Michael Norman Manley (19241997).

In May 1938 the Jamaican people spontaneously rose up in revolt against the harsh economic conditions of the Great Depression. The mass of people could not vote, and their dissatisfaction had been expressed through anti-colonial pressure groups and organizations. The 1938 upheaval transformed the political environment, however, and the same groups who had been involved in earlier civic efforts moved into the political arena and launched the People's National Party.

The Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) was formed out of the general strike, the burning of sugar estates, and spontaneous island-wide demonstrations that took place in the 1938 revolt. Initially, it was loosely affiliated with the PNP, which provided its mass base and played the leading political role. As a political party based in the urban and rural middle classes, the PNP began with weak popular support. Nonetheless, the radical intelligentsia in the PNP developed a strongly anticolonial political program.

By 1943 it was clear that the British, weakened by the fight against the Nazis, would concede universal adult suffrage to the Jamaican people and hold general elections. In anticipation of this, the BITU, which had been in a loose relationship with the PNP, broke with that party and formed the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). As a result, the PNP lost a substantial part of its mass base. In 1944 the first general elections under British rule were held, and the PNP was soundly defeated by the JLP.

After this defeat, the PNP developed into a mass party with its own affiliated trade unionfirst the Trades Union Congress, and later its successor, the National Workers Union. Unlike the BITU, these organizations primarily unionized workers in manufacturing, mining, tourism, and public sectors. This combination of the middle classes, businesspeople, the working class, and poor people has been a characteristic feature of the PNP (and of many other nationalist parties formed during the colonial period). The result has been that the PNP contains ideological tendencies ranging from the moderate right to the far left. This has sometimes led to sharp interparty disputes and divisions.

The most tumultuous of these disputes occurred in 1952, when the "Four Hs"Ken Hill, Frank Hill, Richard Hart, and Arthur Henrywere expelled from the party on the grounds that they represented a communist tendency. After this split the PNP leaned more to the moderate right in its political platform. It won the general elections for the first time in 1955, and Norman Manley became the chief minister, as distinct from prime ministera title reserved for the chief executive of politically independent countries. The PNP then began to implement a vigorous program of reform.

Reforms implemented between 1955 and 1962 in education, housing, land distribution, industrialization, social development, and public-policy management were fundamental in shaping modern Jamaican society. Access to high school and university education was expanded, a strong civil service developed, and a sense of national cultural identity was encouraged. In addition, efforts at regional political unity with other English-speaking Caribbean countries were pursued in the form of a political federation. These reforms benefited primarily the Jamaican middle and business classes, which expanded and consolidated themselves during this period. The mass of the people remained in poverty, with income distribution becoming worse. An important debate, led by leading members of the JLP, about the growing gap between the "haves and the have-nots" began to take place. Additionally, political federation with other Caribbean countries was unpopular with the mass of people. The result was that the PNP was defeated in national elections in 1962. Thus, Jamaica was led into political independence in 1962 not by the party that had championed it, but by the more conservative Jamaica Labour Party.

In 1969 Norman Manley died and was succeeded as president of the PNP by his son, Michael Manley. In general elections in 1972 the PNP was returned to power. Michael

Manley became the first prime minister from the PNP. The Jamaican people, although experiencing substantial economic growth under the preceding Jamaica Labour Party government, felt that inequalities in society had been intensified and that black Jamaicans and black Jamaican culture were insufficiently recognized and respected. This was a period of global radicalization, including the Cuban revolution in 1959 and other revolutionary struggles in Latin America, a further round of struggles for independence in Africa, and the civil rights, Black Power, and antiwar movements in the United States. The radical tendencies in the PNP were also revived, and the period of democratic socialism (19721980), led by Michael Manley, developed.

The democratic socialist period was marked by reforms in the field of education and housing. As a result of the policy of free education, many people from the poorer strata of Jamaican society gained access to secondary education for the first time. Large working-class housing programs were begun, and legislation improving the status of women and children was enacted (the status of illegitimacy, which established legal disabilities in inheritance and other family rights for children born out of wedlock, and which had greatly disadvantaged the overwhelming majority of children, was abolished). Black Jamaican culture was promoted and Jamaica became a strong voice in the international arena supporting African liberation movements and a new international economic order that would benefit developing countries.

The PNP government under Michael Manley was less successful in its economic reforms, however. The measures instituted to tax the transnational corporations that controlled bauxite mining in Jamaica led to disinvestment and an eventual fall in revenue. The huge expenditure on social welfare programs created large budget deficits, devaluations, and, eventually, structural adjustments recommended by the International Monetary Fund. Manley's radical international stanceincluding close relations with Cuba and the Non-Aligned Movementalienated the government of the United States. The upshot of the economic and political crisis at the end of 1980 was that the PNP under Michael Manley was defeated in a national election characterized by violence.

In 1989 the PNP, still under the leadership of Michael Manley, was returned to power. By then it had shifted from its far-left position to a platform consistent with neoliberal globalization. Following this policy line, a period of rapid deregulation of the economy ensued. This led to unprecedented inflation (90 percent in 1991) and frequent devaluations. In March 1992 Michael Manley resigned because of poor health and was succeeded as prime minister by an eminent black lawyer, P. J. Patterson (b. 1935).

Patterson, who remained prime minister of Jamaica in 2005, continued this same policy line. Because of the weak competitive base of Jamaica, the rapid opening to the global economy was accompanied by a regime of high interest rates as a means of curbing inflation, raising funds to finance the budget, and stabilizing the currency. A long recession (19912002) ensued, which led to a major banking crisis from which the country began to recover only in 2005.

These austerity programs have meant a huge increase in both domestic and foreign debt, significant reductions in social expenditures, and an intensification of income inequalities. This has substantially reduced the political support of the Jamaican people for the PNP. Nevertheless, because of its deep social roots, especially in the black middle and working classes (as well as the divisions in the opposition Jamaican Labour Party), the PNP won an unprecedented four consecutive terms in the general elections held during this period of serious hardshipthe longest continuous period in Jamaican political history that one party has been in power. It will remain in power at least until the next general elections are held in 2007.

See also Manley, Michael; Manley, Norman; Patterson, Percival James "P. J."; International Relations of the Anglophone Caribbean


Gray, Obika. Radicalism and Social Change in Jamaica, 19601972. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.

Munroe, Trevor. The Politics of Constitutional Decolonization: Jamaica 194462. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1972.

Post, Ken. Arise Ye Starvelings: The Jamaican Labour Rebellion of 1938 and its Aftermath. The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1978.

Stephens, Evelyne Huber, and John D. Stephens. Democratic Socialism in Jamaica: The Political Movement and Social Transformation in Dependent Capitalism. New York: Macmillan, 1986.

don robotham (2005)

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People's National Party

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