West Indies Democratic Labour Party

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West Indies Democratic Labour Party

The West Indies Democratic Labour Party (WIDLP) was formed in 1958 and led by Alexander Bustamante, a Jamaican who was also leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP, formed in 1943). The WIDLP was formed to contest the 1958 federal elections. The party ceased to exist in 1962, when the West Indies Federation collapsed. While it lasted, it was an alliance of political parties from the twelve member countries of the West Indies Federation, and it became the opposition party in the federation, having narrowly lost the first and only federal elections, which were won by the West Indies Federal Labour Party. The WIDLP's affiliates, including the JLP, were opposition parties in the territories of the West Indies Federation, with the exception of Saint Vincent. The party itself existed more as a label than as an organization with a strong center. It had no constitution and offered no manifesto in contesting the federal elections.

The WIDLP won twenty of the forty-five seats contested in the federal elections. Its strength lay in three territories where it won the majority of seats: Jamaica (twelve), Trinidad and Tobago (six), and Saint Vincent (two). Bustamante's JLP was the strongest affiliate, and he was the dominant labor personality in the West Indies. The party moderately supported federation, preferring a gradual and cautious approach to such issues as the creation of a customs union and freedom of movement, as well as a weak federal center.

The fate of the party rested on Bustamante's political ambitions in Jamaica, and he was more nationalist than regionalist. He did not offer himself as a candidate in the federal elections; did not try to establish close personal links in the Eastern Caribbean, where he was not popular; feared that Jamaica would be asked to subsidize the less-developed Eastern Caribbean countries; and feared Trinidad and Tobago's competition with Jamaica's manufacturing sector. Bustamante eventually led a successful secession from the federation when the JLP won a 1961 referendum in Jamaica, which was the largest member.

The WIDLP lacked distinct foundations in doctrine, traditional themes, and structures around which leaders of diverse territorial parties could rally. Furthermore, communication across the Caribbean was difficult. Leaders in the Eastern Caribbean could hardly tell what Jamaica's leaders were planning. The politics of Bustamante and the WIDLP often reflected the competitive politics of the JLP and its rival Peoples National Party (PNP) in Jamaica. It failed to consolidate itself during the four-year life of the federation. The reason is captured by Bustamante's statement that he would sacrifice the WIDLP and the federation if he thought they might hurt Jamaica's interest. In the end, he did.

See also Bustamante, Alexander; Jamaica Labour Party; West Indies Federal Labour Party; West Indies Federation


Mordecai, John. The West Indies: The Federal Negotiations. London: Allen and Unwin, 1968.

robert maxwell buddan (2005)

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West Indies Democratic Labour Party