Michael Manley (1924-1997) was the leader of the People's National Party of Jamaica, prime minister (1972-1980, 1989-1992), and theoretician for a new International Economic Order. A fiery leftist and critic of the United States in his first two terms, in his third term he was a moderate with close ties to America.
Michael Norman Manley was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica, on December 10, 1924, the second son of illustrious parents. His father, Norman Washington Manley, was a Rhodes scholar, decorated World War I hero, and the most distinguished legal advocate in the history of Jamaica. In 1938 Norman Manley founded the People's National Party, and he served as premier of Jamaica between 1955 and 1962. Along with his cousin, Alexander Bustamante, the elder Manley was a dominant force in the political system of his c}ountry until his retirement in 1969. Michael Manley's mother, Edna (nee Swithenbank), was an internationally recognized sculptor and patron of the arts
Manley attended Jamaica College, his father's alma mater, in suburban Saint Andrew parish and in the early 1940s was a writer for the weekly newspaper Public Opinion. He volunteered for service in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 while at McGill University and at the end of the war studied politics, philosophy, and economics at the London School of Economics. Upon graduation he worked as a freelance journalist with the British Broadcasting Service from 1950 to December 1951, when he accepted the invitation to be associate editor of Public Opinion.
Jamaica in the early 1950s was an exciting place politically. The People's National Party had lost the general elections of 1949 although they gained the largest number of popular votes. More significantly, an irreparable rift had developed between the party and its labor union, culminating in a break in 1952. Manley became a member of the executive committee of the People's National Party in 1952 and helped organize the National Worker's Union, the successor to the Trade's Union Congress dominated by the expelled dissident faction
In 1953 Manley quit Public Opinion to work full time with the National Worker's Union. He is credited with the rapid expansion of the union not only among sugar workers, the traditional stronghold of the rival Bustamante Industrial Trades Union, but also among elite bauxite and mine workers, as well as urban industrial workers. In 1955 he was elected Island supervisor and first vice president of the National Workers Union, and in 1962, the year he was appointed a senator, he was elected president of the Caribbean Bauxite and Mineworkers Union. Before his formal entry into politics Manley had the reputation of being the foremost union organizer in the Caribbean—an energetic, fearless, dynamic, and gifted leader.
In the general elections of 1967 Manley won the seat in the House of Representatives for the constituency of Central Kingston, later reclassified as East Central Kingston. Elected leader of the People's National Party in 1969 after the resignation of his father, Manley led the party to victory in 1972.
Manley's first two terms as prime minister created great controversy and projected his country into international headlines. In an effort to implement his brand of "democratic socialism" he sought to drastically restructure the politics and economy of Jamaica through far-reaching legislation. On the positive side, over 40,000 new housing units were built, free education was made available for all students, new hospitals were established and the infant mortality rate was cut in half. However, the Jamaican economy took a nosedive due to several factors. The price of oil increased nearly ten-fold during Manley's term; the government's purchase of most of the sugar estates resulted in them becoming unproductive white elephants; and many business and professional people, fearing Manley's leftist rhetoric, left the country. As a result, unemployment skyrocketed to thirty percent by 1980.
In the international sphere, Manley developed closer ties between Jamaica and Fidel Castro's Cuba, and criticized America and other western countries. He sought to lead the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations into the formation of a New International Economic Order against what he considered the exploitation of the West.
Manley won reelection easily in 1976, but shortly afterwards the island's increasing economic problems forced him to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). To obtain loans, the prime minister agreed to reduce the value of his country's currency. Unfortunately, this failed to help the economy, while meeting the conditions of the loans hurt the living standards of Jamaicans. By March of 1988, Manley refused to accept the conditions of the IMF for new loans.
As the economy continued to sour, violence broke out between Manley's supporters and his opponents, driving away visitors and eliminating a major source of revenue from tourism. The 1980 elections were held in an atmosphere of near-civil war, with over 750 dying and thousands being injured in the shootings and stabbings that broke out over the country. In November's elections, Manley and the People's National Party were routed by Ed Seaga and his Jamaican Labor Party, managing to retain only nine out of 60 seats in Parliament.
Just after his defeat, Manley expressed no regrets about his policies, saying "We lost because we challenged the power of the Western economic order. And for that I am unrepentant," quoted in "Seaga Knocks Out the Left," by John Brecher, Newsweek. He also indicated his desire to return to private life. The latter was shortlived, and a new Manley—more moderate than he had been previously—became leader of the opposition. Manley's decision not to contest the December 1983 elections cost him his seat in Parliament, but he continued to be highly-regarded by the Jamaican people. Seaga—never particularly popular—became even more unpopular with his austerity program, and in February of 1989 Manley and the People's National Party won a decisive victory, capturing 44 seats in Parliament. In an interview with Newsweek's Eric Calonius, Manley acknowledged making mistakes in his previous tenure, and said, "The country has evolved, the world has evolved, and we must evolve with it. I think I have evolved."
In his third term as Prime Minister, Manley followed many of Seaga's policies, although he tended to put greater emphasis on small-scale businesses and increased spending on education. Also, like Seaga, he forged a close relationship with the United States, even supporting President George Bush's proposed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to reduce tariffs between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. In 1990 Manley was diagnosed with cancer, and on March 16th he announced he was stepping down, for reasons of health, from his position as prime minister. In spite of his illness, he led the Commonwealth Observer Mission to oversee the historic 1994 elections in South Africa, which ended apartheid in that country.
Manley died of prostate cancer March 7th, 1997, in Kingston after having served his country in one form or another for over 40 years. In a letter to the Jamaican Prime Minister, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Emeka Anyaoku called Manley "a statesman of courage and conviction who extended his vision of a better and more just society beyond his island shores" who was "endeared not only to his Commonwealth colleagues but to people so many parts of the world."
Manley's life boasted many personal and political accomplishments. He was prime minister for three terms and lead the People's National Party for almost a quarter-century. Manley also founded the International Bauxite Association and spearheaded the International Seabed Authority, which both have their headquarters in Kingston, and served as vice-president of the Socialist International for Latin America and the Caribbean in 1978. He also received many awards, including a United Nations special award for his contributions to the struggle against apartheid (1978), the Joliot Curie Medal of the World Peace Council (1979), the Order of the Liberator from Venezuela (1973) and the Order of the Mexican Eagle (1975).
Manley is listed in the International Who's Who and Personalities Caribbean; His political career can be gleaned from his writings as well as from Rex Nettleford, Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica (1971); Carl Stone, Electoral Behaviour and Public Opinion in Jamaica (1974); Manley's tenure as prime minister from 1972-1980 and the 1980 elections were given an overview in "Political Storm Over Jamaica," by Jo Thomas, New York Times Magazine; and the 1980 election results were given in "Seaga Knocks Out the Left," by John Brecher, Newsweek, November 10th, 1980; Interviews with Manley shortly after his 1989 victory are given to Erik Calonius in "A Comeback in Jamaica," Newsweek, February 20th, 1989; and with Hans Massaquoi of Ebony, February, 1990; Manley authored five books: The Politics of Change (1974), A Voice at the Workplace (1976), The Search for Solutions (1977), Jamaica: Struggle in the Periphery (1982), and Up the Down Esculator: Development and the International Economy (Washington, D.C., Howard University Press, 1987). Two biographies of him are Michael Manley: The Making of a Leader by Darrell Levi (Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1990); and Michael Manley: The Great Transformation by David Panton (Kingston Pub. Ltd., 1993).