Obituary: Michael Manley
Saturday 08 March 1997
Manley always saw clearly that the politics of reform which he espoused in Jamaica depended upon associated changes in the wider international economy. This led him to take up articulate and brave, if sometimes foolhardy, positions in the debate about the shaping of a "new international economic order" which brought the plight of the developing world to the centre of the international stage during the course of the 1970s. Less changed than he imagined or hoped, but Manley succeeded nevertheless in stamping something of his huge and vibrant personality on that phase of world history.
Manley was born into one of Jamaica's leading middle-class families in 1924. His father, Norman, was a brilliant lawyer, destined to found the Jamaican People's National Party (PNP) and to be the island's political leader during the last days of British colonial rule between 1955 and 1962. Manley's mother, Edna, was an equally brilliant artist and sculptress.
Their second son inherited his considerable intellectual powers and gifts of advocacy from his father, but just as importantly drew from his mother a human sensitivity, a deep integrity and a basic liking of people (of all classes) which marked his own subsequent political career in deeply formative ways.
He attended Jamaica College, the colony's exclusive secondary school, excelling mostly as an athlete, but showing early signs of his rebellious nature by publicly challenging the authoritarian approach of his headmaster and ultimately resigning from the college. He spent the last years of the Second World War in the Royal Canadian Air Force, before enrolling in late 1945 as a student at the London School of Economics.
This was a critical phase in Manley's political development. Like so many others, he came under the influence of Harold Laski and began to take on board many of the dominant social democratic ideas of Labour England at that time. Despite the claims of critics from both left and right at different moments in his career, he never really budged from this early ideological grounding.
After graduating, Manley spent another year in Britain training as a journalist and following the fortunes of the West Indian cricket team. Cricket was always a great love, and for him a defining feature of what it was to be a West Indian, and he later wrote the huge A History of West Indies Cricket (1988).
By 1952, however, Manley was back in Jamaica and was immediately projected by his father into the key role of union organiser within the PNP- affiliated National Workers' Union (NWU). It was another defining moment for "Young Boy", as Manley came to be dubbed by the sugar workers. Initially a highly nervous public speaker, he grew over the next 20 years of active and successful trade unionism into an impassioned orator. He also came to acquire a deep awareness of the many social and economic ills, above all the deep-rooted inequality, at the heart of Jamaican society.
When his father retired as PNP leader in 1969, it was thus natural that Manley, already an elected member of the House of Representatives, should succeed him. He sought to articulate the growing disaffection of ordinary black Jamaicans and swept to a dramatic and exciting election victory in 1972. Manley was "Joshua": he epitomised the anger of his people; he defined socialism as "love"; and he set energetically about the task of building a better society for all Jamaicans.
His politics were those of a radical social democrat, but wisely or unwisely he worked with Marxist elements in Jamaican society and quickly came to be seen from the outside, especially in the United States, as a dangerous "anti- imperialist". At home, his policies were characterised by nationalisation, higher taxation and a commitment to extending literacy; abroad, he befriended Castro, took a leading role in the non-aligned movement and deeply alarmed the Americans.
However, although there were successes in terms of building popular self- confidence, his populist experiment ended in ultimate failure, the economy broken on the back of disinvestment and IMF-imposed austerity and the society riven by intra-party conflict. The 1980 election, which saw the PNP severely defeated, was marked by great violence.
In opposition, Manley rebuilt his strength and his nerve and took stock of changing ideas about economic development. In 1988 he was again elected to office, ostensibly as the "new" Manley. He had not changed his basic social goals but he had come to different views as to how they could best be realised. In particular, he had accepted that the private sector, not the state, was the best route to increased economic production, without which there could be no hope of social improvement. In September 1990 he thus turned his party and government firmly in the direction of deregulation and liberalisation.
By this time, he was beginning to suffer the first serious ill-health that limited him in the last years of his life and in March 1992 he announced that his doctors had advised him that he could no longer carry the physical burden of high office and that he would resign as Jamaican prime minister as soon as his successor could be elected. It was 40 long, gruelling years since he had come home to take up his job with NWU.
Even in retirement, Manley did not cease to serve his Caribbean. In particular, he responded to a request to "probe" the views of other Caribbean Basin governments on the merits of a proposed new region-wide Association of Caribbean States, with which he was much in sympathy, as a long-standing regionalist.
Michael Manley's National Workers' Union represented the staff at Radio Jamaica when I took over its management in 1963, writes Graham Binns. We knew of each other, but had not met.
Shortly after arriving I disciplined an announcer and Manley stormed in to confront me. He was a heroic figure, a tower of a man in an open-necked lumberjack shirt. This was to put me at a disadvantage. Management was wearing suits and ties in those days.
Despite (or because of) the dramatic style of his arrival I became dramatic myself. When he walked up and down one end of my office making his speech I responded by walking up and down the other end while making mine. Our eyes then met in an unblinking trial of righteousness, but we spoiled the scene. I saw the corner of his mouth quiver as he saw mine. We settled the issue quickly.
When we negotiated collective agreements on pay and conditions we did so facing each other down the boardroom table. His shop stewards were ranged down one side, my supporting executives down the other. They were all obstinate and inflexible, while he and I were fierce in our arguments.
But if Manley sensed that deadlock was too close he would suddenly bring, say, the Guernica into his tirade and we would both discuss Picasso, the others looking from one to the other of us like the heads in the advertisement "That's Shell That Was". After one of these artistic breaks we were able to turn back to the consideration of pay and conditions in the mildest of manners.
The union was the theatre Michael Manley understood best. He was indeed a charismatic political leader, but there were times when his enthusiasm overwhelmed his judgement. Someone with his great style, but well advised, would be a godsend to any country.
Michael Norman Manley, politician: born St Andrew, Jamaica 19 December 1924; Sugar Supervisor, National Workers' Union 1953-54, Island Supervisor and first Vice-President 1955-72; Member, Jamaican Senate 1962-67, Leader of the Opposition 1969-72, 1980-89, Prime Minister 1972-80, 1989-92; MP for Central Kingston, Jamaica 1967-92; books include The Politics of Change 1974, Jamaica: Struggle in the Periphery 1982, A History of West Indies Cricket 1988, The Poverty of Nations 1991; married 1946 Jacqueline Ramellard (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1951), 1955 Thelma Verity (one son; marriage dissolved 1960), 1966 Barbara Lewars (died 1968; one daughter), 1972 Beverley Anderson (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1990), 1992 Glynne Ewart; died Kingston, Jamaica 6 March 1997.
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