1938 was a turning point in the history of modern Jamaica. Workers across the island began to demand better wages and working conditions and the colonial government had no choice but to listen. Strikes by the sugarworkers of Frome estate in Westmoreland, by the dockworkers of the Standard Fruit Company in Kingston, by farmworkers in Islington, St. Mary led to mass rallies and public meetings, the likes of which had never been seen on the island, not even the decade before during the height of Garveyism.
BY AUGUST 1938 Fairclough had made a name for himself travelling all over the island to recruit members such as businessmen, lawyers and members from established organizations such as the Jamaica Union of Teachers (JUT) and the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS).
A set of some 50 delegates were eventually selected and they appointed a steering committee of seven that included Norman Manley as chairman, accountant O. T. Fairclough as secretary, teacher H.P. Jacobs, lawyer N.N. Nethersole, Rev. O. G. Penso, architectural draftsman W. G. MacFarlane and Howard F. Cooke, a JUT representative (and the present Governor-General of Jamaica, the only member of that committee still alive). He remembers the excitement of the time and the almost missionary urge of wanting to effect change. The steering committee's task was to draft a founding constitution and prepare the party's formal launch slated for September 18, 1938 at the landmark Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston.
Ken Hiill and Sir Stafford Cripps
On the evening of September 18 the Ward Theatre was packed to capacity with the overflow spilling out onto North Parade. People of different political beliefs from different walks of life were present to listen to Norman Manley and British Labour Party MP, Sir Stafford Cripps, the guest speaker. Manley spoke of a new era in Jamaica's history, stressing the "tremendous difference between living in a place and belonging to it and feeling that your own life and your destiny is irrevocably bound up in the life and destiny of that place. Radical change was under way." In addition, he spoke of the need for collaboration between politics and trade unionism
* It is said that the name originally chosen was the Jamaica Labour Party in light of the
growing labour movement as indicated in a publication up to a week before the party's actually launch. Some supporters,
however, were concerned that the use of the word labour might sound as if the party should only be open to labourers. Hence the change of wording to people's and national.
* When the PNP began an islandwide campaign to organize chapters and the Kingston Chapter was formed Bustamante joined it for a short time. He then was forced to spend up to a year and a half in jail for what the then British Governor determined subversive activities with the BITU and soon after his release from jail that time he set about organizing the Jamaica Labour Party, launched at the Ward Theatre in 1943.
The right-of-centre party traditionally has been the Jamaica Labour Party. This party was formed in 1943 with William Alexander Bustamante (1884-1977) as its leader. Bustamante was born in Blenheim. After serving in the Spanish army, he worked in various capacities in Cuba, Panama, and New York City. In 1932, he and his friend, St. William Grant, returned to Jamaica. Grant became the sharp end of the stick Bustamante used to prod the British to extend self-rule to Jamaica.
Busta, as he was known to all, organized the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union in 1938, and was jailed by the British for his union and political activities in 1941-42. In 1943 Bustamante formed the Jamaica Labor party, and later served as mayor of Kingston (1947-48) and chief minister of Jamaica (1953-55).
Knighted in 1955, Sir Alexander became the first prime minister of a fully independent Jamaica. That was in 1962. Politically conservative, he closely aligned the country with the United States. Sir Alexander became a member of the order of National Heroes in 1965. He and Norman Manley were the first ones to receive this honour. Bustamante retired in 1967 and was succeeded by Hugh Lawson Shearer.
The JLP won the first election under Jamaica's new constitution in 1944. The new constitution granted the island limited self-rule and universal adult sufferage. The JLP also held office in 1949-1955. After independence, the JLP had two additional terms in office: 1962-1972 and 1980-1989.
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