West Indies Federal Labour Party

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West Indies Federal Labour Party

Throughout its existence, the West Indies Federal Labour Party (WIFLP) was led by Jamaican Norman Manley, who was also president of Jamaica's People's National Party (PNP, formed in 1938). The WIFLP was formed in 1956 and its leaders were among the strongest proponents of the West Indies Federation (19581962). The opposing party within the federation was the West Indies Democratic Labour Party (WIDLP), led by Alexander Bustamante, also a Jamaican, who was also leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP, formed in 1943).

The WIFLP had twelve affiliate parties from the territories of the West Indies Federation. It also had a constitution and presented a manifesto for the federal elections of 1958. It required affiliated territorial parties to declare themselves socialist. However, it was forced to accept some parties as affiliate members that had not so declared themselves. The WIFLP and its affiliates were therefore socialist more in name than in program.

The WIFLP narrowly defeated its rival WIDLP by winning twenty-two (to the latter's twenty) of the fortyfive federal seats in the elections of March 1958. Its minority government was generally supported by three independent members. The party's narrow victory was surprising considering the prestige of its leaders. Norman Manley was the region's most prestigious political leader, followed by Grantley Adams of Barbados and Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago. The party also had the advantage that eleven of its affiliates formed territorial governments in the federation's member countries.

The WIFLP affiliates faced strongest antifederal sentiments in the largest and most important countries: Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The federal election was conducted under local election laws. The WIFLP's largest affiliate, the PNP of Jamaica, won only five of the seventeen seats allocated to Jamaica. The WIFLP also suffered a major defeat when the People's National Movement of Trinidad and Tobago, led by Eric Williams, failed to secure a majority of seats allocated to that island.

This meant that two of the strongest affiliates of the WIFLP had relatively few representatives in the federal parliament, and neither Manley nor Williams contested seats to that parliament. The strongest support for the WIFLP came from Barbados and the eastern Caribbean. The first prime minister of the federation was Grantley Adams, but his Barbados Labour Party lost national elections in 1961, denying him much prestige at the federal level.

This meant that, although the parliamentary group of the WIFLP represented eight islands altogether, more than two-thirds of the MPs were from Barbados and the Leeward and Windward islands of the eastern Caribbean. The opposition WIDLP's parliamentary group came entirely from four islands: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Vincent. Furthermore, neither of the leaders of the two federal parties contested elections and so none were members of the federal parliament.

Sir John Mordecai raised the question of how truly federal the two parties were. He writes, "Both the WIFLP and the DLP were contrived in expediencyboth lacking distinct foundations in doctrine, traditional themes and standards around which leaders of territorial Federal Parties, so diverse in pattern and status, could rally. The fact of each alliance being headed by the founders of the two Jamaican Parties for twenty years at 'war' with each other, also contributed to the weakness of both Federal Parties" (p. 85).

At the outset, the WIFLP favored a relatively strong central government and the rapid development of a customs union. However, nationalist politics and regional fragmentation undermined the party's leadership of the federal government and its policies. Norman Manley, for instance, had decided to remain as head of the Jamaican government rather than become prime minister of the federation in order to fight the antifederal tendencies in Jamaica. This undermined both his regional stature and that of the federation itself.

Furthermore, the WIFLP suffered from the fragmentation of the West Indian islands and the long distances between them, especially between Jamaica and the eastern Caribbean. Communication systems were weak and travel was irregular. This affected the coherence of the WIFLP and its ability to consolidate its regional organization. Manley's PNP, being the largest affiliate of the WIFLP, lost a referendum in 1961 on whether Jamaica should remain in the federation and this forced the country to withdraw, which led to the demise of the federation and the WIFLP in 1962.

See also Barbados Labour Party; Jamaica Labour Party; West Indies Democratic Labour Party; West Indies Federation


Eaton, George. Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Kingston Publishers, 1995.

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

robert buddan (2005)

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West Indies Federal Labour Party

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