In a news story in The Gleaner, July 10, 2020, it was reported that Holness, while speaking at the launch of the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) 2020 national programme, told his audience that the country was still paying for the “misadventures” of the 1970s as Michael Manley sold “the people of Jamaica false hopes and unrealistic dreams”.
It would appear that Holness’ primary objectives are to distort the history of the People’s National Party (PNP), discredit Michael Manley, and promote the JLP as the right choice.
For the 11 years for which Manley held the position of prime minister of Jamaica, the 23 years that he led the PNP, and for the 43 years he was in public life, Manley demonstrated that politics was about people. Not about corruption as some current political representatives seem to be about.
He used his skill of advocacy, intellect, and his alarming capacity for hard work to hammer home to every Jamaican that the solution to the country’s problems lies with us and that we have the capacity and the fortitude as a people to shape our future. He connected with the people, and the people connected with him.
Michael Manley championed progressive ideas on behalf of the people. Progressive because his ideas addressed their condition. Progressive because his ideas went to the root of what they regarded as their rights and welfare. Progressive because his ideas were not only for Jamaicans, but for humans everywhere. That is why he garnered so much respect regionally and internationally. He was a voice against racism, injustice, and the economic and social exploitation of men by the wealthy and privileged. A ‘misadventure’ that has brought Jamaica tremendous respect on the world stage.
When Michael Manley and the PNP came to power in 1972, banks and major companies hardly had any black people on their managerial team. The army was admitting only men, not women. Ordinary black people hardly knew what it meant to own businesses. Many Jamaicans lacked confidence in themselves. They felt left out because they were left out. Such was the case of children born out of wedlock. Manley corrected that. Prime Minister Holness should know a thing or two about the positive effect of this policy. What a ‘misadventure’!
To make Jamaica more inclusive, Manley embarked on a raft of social programmes to bridge the gap. This included more Jamaicans having access to the ownership of land and agricultural policies aimed at making Jamaica self-sufficient by being self-reliant. It was out of this that the “Grow What you Eat, and Eat What you Grow” campaign started, a programme that has been taken up by the Holness’ government. So much for Manley’s ‘misadventure’!
When Manley assumed leadership in 1972, he was faced with an economy that had an annual average growth rate of six per cent in the 1960s, but unemployment had moved from 12 per cent to 24 per cent in the same period. Two societies existed: a few going up and the vast majority going down.
He was firmly of the view that there could be no economic progress unless the majority of the population was made to feel that they had a stake in the future of the country.
This resulted, for example, in the creation of the National Housing Trust (NHT), which was charged with the responsibility of building houses for lower-income groups. It also became a significant source of increased domestic savings. The NHT, as it has been for others, has become a significant asset for the Holness administration, a ‘misadventure’ in which he takes great pride.
Michael Manley – Champion of Education
Manley was adamant that the realisation of fundamental changes in the society had to be driven by people having greater access to education.
It was in the 1970s that the policy of the democratisation of education was introduced by the democratic socialist government of Michael Manley.
It allowed students, ancillary workers, and teacher representatives to sit on school boards. It was one of the most forward-thinking policies introduced by Michael Manley as the policy required the participation of all sectors of the school system to have an input in the drive for a better system of education.
The policy led to the formation of the National Secondary Students’ Council and the Jamaica Union of Tertiary Students. Holness’ reckless statements about Michael Manley is a slap in the face of all the students, ancillary workers, and teachers who continue to enjoy the right to participate in the discussions and decisions of our schools’ board of management.
The introduction of free education, from the primary to tertiary level, created educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of our people and reinforced the notion that Jamaica should be a land of opportunities for all, regardless of one’s station in life.
Whether the funding of free education, at all levels, could have been sustained, given the country’s fiscal realities, is a matter for debate. The fact is, free education was introduced, and thousands of us, including some members of Holness’ administration, are products of that policy.
There was also a major national drive on adult illiteracy by Michael Manley. This led to the creation of the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL). As a result of this push by Manley, adult literacy improved significantly. Last week, I had a gentleman, aged 70, in my office. He is a businessman with properties all over the country. He confessed that had it not been for JAMAL, he would not be the person he is today.
Manley’s progressive policies led to improved relations with Cuba. This resulted in the construction of the José Martí Technical High School in St Catherine and the Garvey Maceo High School in Clarendon.
The Cuban government also provided a scholarship programme, which resulted in hundreds of Jamaicans being able to pursue higher education in areas such as medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, agriculture, and technical studies. In one fell swoop, Holness has labelled all of them ‘misadventurers’.
Jamaica’s health system could not have held up over the years without the input of the Cuban-trained doctors and the Cuban nurses. Only recently, Holness’ government, in light of COVID-19, begged Cuba for more nurses. Another ‘misadventure’ of Manley being fully utilised by Holness.
Manley and Cuba were instrumental in the introduction of the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport. This institution has had a significant impact on our schools, the fitness industry, sports administration, and coaching.
The improved performances of our students at Boys and Girls’ Champs, and internationally, are due in no large measure to the array of excellent coaches being produced by G.C. Foster. Holness’ anti-Manley utterances ought not to be taken too kindly by the hundreds of coaches and learned professionals who are giving yeoman service across Jamaica.
Four community colleges – Excelsior Community College, Knox Community College, Montego Bay Community College, and Brown’s Town Community College – were established by Michael Manley between 1974 and 1975. They have all taken in thousands of students over the years who have had a significant impact on their respective communities.
The past students of these institutions are direct beneficiaries of the vision of Michael Manley. Holness’ wayward pronouncement is a slap in the face of every one of them.
CHALLENGES IN OFFICE
For Manley and the party that he headed, the 1970s was not an easy road to travel. He attempted social transformation within the context of a fragile and an almost intractable economy.
His attempts to diversify the ownership of the economy by using the State on behalf of the people to assume a greater role in ownership and management of the productive sector were met with tremendous resistance by persons who sought to protect their own self-interest.
The enunciation of his ideas within the context of democratic socialism and his relationship with Cuba drove his detractors to spread rumours that Cuba was bringing a false ideology to Jamaica. The same unchanged Cuba that has been so good to the Holness Government.
These issues, coupled with the two oil crises of the 1970s, the unreasonable demands of the International Monetary Fund, the artificial shortages of basic food items, the intervention of external forces such as the CIA, the bad-mouthing of Jamaica abroad by some political leaders, the fire and brimstone tactics of opposition forces that left hundreds dead, and divisions within his own party, posed real challenges for Manley, resulting in his electoral defeat in 1980.
An objective assessment of the 1970s would lead one to conclude that Michael Manley underestimated how deeply entrenched the resistance to change would have been.
Manley later realised this and decided that along with the changes that were taking place globally, he had to adjust his ideological compass. This he did, resulting in him being reappointed prime minister in 1989, until, under the strain of illness, he demitted office in 1992.
Michael Manley left this earth in 1997. Three years later, in 2000, the Carl Stone Poll Organisation, in a national poll, asked the question, “Which prime minister has done the most to improve the lot of the people?” In their response, 54 per cent said Michael Manley, with Edward Seaga a distant 16 per cent.
Using this poll as a yardstick, albeit 20 years on, one can conclude that as Seaga failed in the effort to discredit Michael Manley, so, too, will Prime Minister Holness.
Prime Minister Holness, I beg you, leave Michael Manley alone and focus on national matters at hand, which, between you and me, seem terribly out of hand.