From the Seven Days for Socialism! International Supplement (August 1967)
It is now five years since this sunny island has been independent. During this time the relative unimportance of independence is quite obvious to everyone who has to work for a living. The new Jamaica that was promised is still a promise, with no signs of fulfilment.
This island, with one and three-quarter million people, is basically agricultural. This occupies over 30 per cent of the labour force. Sugar cane, bananas and citrus are the chief crops. Sugar enjoyed a brief period of prosperity on the world market some time ago but during the past three years prices have remained constantly low. There is a strong plea from the estate landlord for mechanisation to reduce cost, but with the unemployment situation never falling below 150,000 it is politically dangerous for the politicians to endorse this. Thousands of small farmers have deserted the land over the past ten years, to live in Britain or America, and right now there is quite a food shortage. They say too much that is imported could be grown here. The government is planning a tax on unused land and is constantly promising land reform. They played this up greatly during the recent election, although nothing has been done so far about it.
The Jamaica Labour party won the recent election in February by a clear majority. They soon lost their leader, Sir Donald Sangster, who died shortly after. After much scheming and compromise Hugh Shearer emerged as the new Prime Minister (a man who spent twenty-seven years in his party’s union). True to form, on assuming office he barked out about the laziness of the workers and demanded hard work. In the same speech, he reassured the capitalist class that they had nothing to fear from him. He was going to carry out the same policies of his predecessor. The shift from union leader to government leader is not a new one here. Bustamante did it, and successfully maintained an image as a friend of the ’small man’. There is a unique feature of Jamaican politics: the Labour Party which admits to the free enterprise system, more in line with the British Conservative Party, gets most of its support from the low paid workers and rural peasantry. While the Peoples National Party (PNP) who make some claim to ’socialism’ (advocating nationalisation, and other state control measures along the line of the British Labour Party) is strongest among the professional and so-called middle class. This is due mainly, perhaps, to Bustamante’s image. He did everything from breaking strikes to bulldozing people’s houses but could always convince the workers it was done for their benefit!
The PNP, under its leader Norman Manley, is now going through a re-examination of itself, after its crushing defeat in the election. Their vote-catching programme of land distribution, and a solution to the unemployment problem never quite got over. By calling its capitalist policies ‘socialism’, the PNP created a feeling of mistrust—particularly among the rural voters. The mere mention of any ism is regarded by them as a plot by the devil. They have described the elections as bogus, and not without some justification. The government had introduced a very complicated system of voter registration, whereby voters are finger printed, and in the town areas are photographed. Many never got round to doing either, and most of these people seem to be PNP supporters; just what the ruling JLP had hoped. Less people were able to vote in the February election than at any time since adult suffrage in 1944!
Both parties dominate trade union activity, each having its affiliate union. There are very few skilled workers to make possible unions based on trade. Rivalry is very keen and clashes are frequent, as in a strike not long ago at the Gleaner Company, publishers of the only daily, where one union accepted the company’s proposal while the other rejected it! They are joint representatives of the workers, because both have failed to win a clear majority vote. There is a growing suspicion among workers in light manufacturing industries about the affluence of the unions’ officials, and we often hear cries of “sellout”. The unions contribute nothing towards workers’ education. It is distinctly to their advantage to maintain this state of ignorance.
Britain’s possible entry into the European Common Market is giving cause for great concern. The protective markets for sugar, bananas and citrus are threatened. Countries in South America can sell bananas at about half the price Jamaica is getting from Britain. American citrus is again much cheaper, and there is an adequate supply of beet sugar produced in Europe. So the ruling class here are very much up against it. There are cries how Britain is abandoning the Commonwealth, and everyone has suddenly found out how deeply they feel about the old flag. The harsh reality of capitalism is quite evident. Britain will do anything for its economic survival and couldn’t care less about sentimental ties.
The problem of crime is giving the capitalist class of all countries quite a headache; Jamaica is no exception. Murder, robbery, rape, and all the other features of a property society, are on the increase.
Population increase among the poor is quite alarming. There is now quite a strong campaign to get the ideas of family planning across. The pulpit is constant every week, in telling us how irresponsible Jamaican men are for subjecting their women to constant child bearing, and without the means of supporting them. They paint all sorts of gloomy pictures for the future if this does not stop.
Modern capitalism is catching up fast in this part of the world. What it is doing in moulding people's behaviour is very sad indeed. The realisation that a better world through Socialism is possible, right now, perhaps makes it all the more sad.