Power, Policy and Politics Independent Jamaica


From, Jamaica in Independence, Ed., Rex Nettleford, Heineman Caribbean, 1989, pp.20-29


Carl Stone



This overview of Jamaican political development since Independence tries to reflect on the genesis of Jamaican democracy and party politics, the evolution of major economic and social policies, and the profile of Jamaican public opinion. All of the themes speak to the most fundamental issues in Jamaican democracy and a treatment of the subject without reference to each of them would be less than adequate.

      The analysis presented here represents some core aspects of my research on Jamaican politics over an academic career that goes back to the early 1970s. It also covers some of the major issues which have preoccupied me as a public scholar who writes and researches to facilitate public education in the wider society rather than merely for the consumption of academics.

      The shaping of public policy by the emergent political parties that took over power in the transition to Independence remains a major misunderstood and unresearched area of Jamaica's political development.

      I try to cover this theme in part one of the paper. The role and character of public opinion in the country's politics and the profound changes that have occurred here since the 1970s are just being understood. This theme is dealt with in part two.

      The presentation and discussion that follow are therefore divided into these two central themes which it is hoped will stimulate further thought and research on democratic political development in modern Jamaica.


Jamaica with its small 2.3 million population and its 4.4 thousand square miles island state, is an atypical Third World country in that has a stable two-party system in which power has been shared by two major political parties under a British type parliamentary constitution since Independence in 1962.'

The transition from a colonial and authoritarian political system to representative government, democracy and full self-government began in the post Second World War period after a combination of labour and peasant protests3 over economic discontent and middle class agitation for political change pressured the British colonial administration in introducing constitutional changes. These changes evolved gradually over the following periods:

1944 Elected majority in the legislature and universal adult suffrage;

1953 Elected representatives controlling the administration

through a ministerial system;

1959 Full internal self-government;

1962 Independence from Britain


The two political parties — The Peoples National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) — emerged in the late 1930s and early 1940s as part of a national political movement for change. The movement championed the cause of the black majority and sought to democratize a political system dominated by white and light-skinned planters and merchants. The black majority traces its roots back to Africa, slavery and the old sugar plantation system. They had been effectively excluded from channels of political participation and influence. Although both parties have always had strong trade union ties, the PNP was more associated with demands for self-government while the JLP was linked mainly with working class demands for improved living standards a recognition of the rights of labour.

The populist character of these two political parties and the strong emotional party loyalties that shaped their mass support have their origins in the role they played in democratizing the Jamaican political system in a society characterized by sharp racial and class divisions and antagonisms. In the eyes of the majority of the poorer classes, the mass parties represented their only means through which to influence the Jamaican power structure.

Policy Differences in the PNP and the JLP

Both parties have always been multi-class and multi-racial alliances drawing their support from all strata of the society. [Both parties share a perception that] some state regulation of the economy in the national interests; a broadly held consensus that the state must provide social services for the citizens and economic services and infrastructure for those engaged in production through social reforms and legislation; and a common commitment to political patronage whereby scarce benefits that flow from government policies and expenditure (jobs, housing, contracts, etc.) are allocated to party supporters.

As these political parties took control over policy making in the

postwar period, major changes occurred in the country's social policies in contrast with the policy trends of the earlier colonial period.

These social policies involved expanding the education system providing more opportunities for the poorer classes, enlargement and improvement in health services, the building of housing accommodation for the poorer classes, providing a wide range of agricultural services and financial support for small farmers, and establishing a national insurance scheme for retired workers.

To a large extent, this push towards wide ranging social policies designed to benefit the poorer classes was facilitated by the rapid growth and diversification of the Jamaican economy over the period between 1950 and 1970. This economic expansion provided the income base from which an enlarged role for the state in social and economic services to the poor could be financed.

Comparative data from the World Bank's World Tables (Second Edition, 1980) confirm that Jamaica with a 6.5 per cent growth rate had the highest rate of per capita GDP growth between 1950 and 1960 in the Caribbean and Latin American region. Jamaica also followed this up with a 3 per cent per capita GDP growth rate which was the fourth highest rate of growth in the region between 1960 and 1970, after Puerto Rico, Barbados and Mexico.

As the following data show, public spending was pushed at a faster pace of growth than the overall growth of GDP over these periods confirming the urgency with which the Jamaican state assumed a larger role in the economy as the political system was democratized and pressures were built up for greater levels of public spending to meet the needs of the newly enfranchised masses and to fulfill the populist promises made to them by the parties' leaders for a better quality of life.


1950-60    1960-65    1965-70

Real GDP                       8.1          3.7          5.1

Central Govt.


of expenditure                 8.8          6.4         13.0

Source: World Tables, World Bank (Second Edition), 1980

   It is to be noted that the gap between overall GDP growth and the faster increases in central government consumption expenditure increased between the decade of the 1950s and the early 1960s and accelerated even further in the second half of the decade. The growth gap widened as the development policy commitments and social policy pressures on the newly elected democratic political directorates generated increases in public spending.

         Table 2 outlines the increases in public spending over the period between 1938 and 1970. Overall government expenditure which includes the capital cost of establishing development projects, new institutions and economic and social infrastructure grow even faster than consumption expenditure which underestimates the rate of public sector growth as the political system democratized. The growth was even further accelerated during the 1970s because of the 'big government' orientation and more pronounced socialist emphasis of the PNP in that period.


Central Government Consumption Expenditure %

1938                  5

1950                  5

1960                  7

1970                12

1980                23



National Income Reports, 1940-81, Department of Statistics, Kingston Dept of Statistics,Kingston

Total Capital and Recurrent Expenditure %



13 16 21 43





With respect to the educational area of social policy, the emergence of an elected political executive coincides with a very substantial increase in primary and secondary school enrolment and the building of increased accomodation for students at both levels of the educational system. As Table three makes clear, over the 1950 to 1970 period, primary school enrollment grew from 68 per cent of children of school age to 85 per cent and secondary school enrolment expanded from 6 per cent to 58. This is in sharp contrast to the marginal rates of increase before universal adult suffrage (1944). The massive expansion in secondary education was facilitated by government financing of free places in the early 1950s and the large increase in secondary school buildings.

A para1lel expansion in the health services and improved nutrition (accompanying a rise in living standards resulted in a dramatic improvement in health indicators such as infant mortality and impressive growth in life expectancy levels. Table 4 sets out comparative data for other countries which confirm the considerable improvements experienced in



Primary School               Secondary School Enrollment                

5-14 Age Groups %


1920                                 51               3

1944                                 58               4

1950                                 68              15

1970                                 85               58

Source: Annual Statistical Yearbooks, 1926-72,



Infant Mortality (per 1 000 live births)

 1937           1950         1960         1970    1980

























Sri Lanka












United States









































Life Expectancy at Birth




























































 Sri Lanka

United States



Source: Moyne Commission Report, 1938; World Bank Table, 1980: DisparH Reduction Rates in Social Indicators, Overseas Dev. Council, 1978.

Jamaican health indicators in the postwar period as the economy grew and health services expanded.

Jamaica's infant mortality and life expectancy levels have improved steadily in the postwar years to a point where the country's indicators are considerably above the Third World norm, moderately better than that for middle income countries and only slightly below industrialized countries. In the case of infant mortality improvements, the rate of change in Jamaica matches that achieved in the United of America (USA) over the 1938 to 1980 period and is considerably above that achieved in most middle income developing countries.


Much of this is due to increased spending on health services as overall public spending increased.

The overall increases in health, education, housing and welfare expenditure as a percentage of GDP fully reflect the impact of political democratization as is shown from the following data.


Health, Education, Housing and Welfare Expenditure by Government as a Percentage of

GDP 1938    1960    1970     1975

2.8%     5.6%     6.4%     12.1%

To facilitate an expansion of agricultural services to small farmers, agriculture's claim on the budget more than doubled between 1938 (5 per cent) and Independence in 1962 (12 per cent). These services included extension facilities, credit, and marketing.4 Technical staff in the agricultural departments expanded from 45 in 1930 to 676 in 1970 to accommodate this extension of services to small farmers that in the earlier colonial period were exclusively reserved for big farmers engaged in traditional export crops such as sugar and banana. As a result of land distribution policies adopted by successive elected governments in the postwar period, the percentage of small farmers owning land in­creased from 60 per cent in 1943 to 80 per cent in 1962 when Jamaica achieved self-government.

In the area of housing, the new thrust towards an accelerated social policy emphasis was also evident as elected executives took over public policy. Only since the emergence of an elected executive has there been any large scale government construction of housing. As a consequence of government efforts to help meet the needs for shelter among the lower income groups as well as among the middle income strata., approximately 50000 housing units were constructed by suc­cessive PNP and JLP governments between Independence in 1962 and 1985, representing 75 per cent of the new housing built over the period, if we exclude self-help construction.

Between 1962 and 1971, the JLP during its two terms of office immediately after Independence constructed new housing at a rate of 1500 per annum. The PNP followed this over the 1972 to 1980 period of a similar two terms in office by building at an even higher rate of 2500 units per annum, accelerating from 1 500 annual production over the 1972-74 period to 2 800 per annum in the 1975-1977 period and to 3400 per annum over the 1978 to 1980 period as the country approached the 1980 elections.

The JLP continued the momentum of housing construction estab­lished by the PNP in the 1970s by simply completing projects designed in the PNP period. As a result, the 1981—83 period witnessed a high      3 000 housing units built each year. Budgetary pressures generated by the effort to cut the fiscal budget after 1983 significantly reduced real spending by government in all social areas and especially in are covering capital expenditures for social purposes such as housing. As consequence, between the 1984 to 1986 period the level of housing construction by government declined to slightly below the 1 000 units per year level to 800 units per annum.

The elected political executives placed a high premium on government constructed housing.5 Beyond its social and economic value, it has major political meaning in that it represents a prime area of political patronage allocations and an opportunity to establish political strong holds by careful selection of who gets opportunities for access to the housing schemes. In the typical case, JLP and PNP governments pack the housing schemes they construct with persons who are strong party supporters. The result is the creation of tightly knit, politically partisan communities that reflect strong one-party tendencies.

Access to housing is a highly valued area of political 'scarce benefit of which the highly politicized among the poor have been beneficiaries. Given the low profitability of housing construction for low income families, the state had to take a lead and assume major responsibility for this area of uplifting the quality of life of the poor.

Consequently with their commitment to social reform, successive JLP and PNP governments initiated important areas of social legislation in the postwar period. The traditional policy of dealing with poverty through stigmatized poor relief institutions gave way to a National Insurance Act (1965) which provided old age pensions, invalidity benefits and disablement benefits as well as benefits for dependents for a workers contributing to the scheme.

Minimum wages were prescribed under the 1938 legislation by government proclamations applying minimum rates to specific sectors of the labour force such as printers and bakers. An amendment to the 1941 Employment of Women Law extended the protection on limits to the working hours of women in 1956. Local skills and professions were protected by the 1965 Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens (Employment Act) which restricted the employment of foreign national.

In the 1970s major labour legislation was introduced by the socialist

PNP as part of its effort to capture increased working class support. The Employment Termination and Redundancy Payment Act (1975) protected workers from unfair and arbitrary dismissals and provide for redress and compensation in circumstances of unfair dismissal. The 1975 Employment (Equal pay for Men and Women) Act establish equality in wage rates for men and women in similar employment. The Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (1975) provided for compulsory recognition of trade unions by employers and established, procedure involving the Ministry of Labour for determining workers choice of the union to represent them. In 1976 The Minimum Wage Law was amended to implement for the first time a national minimum wage applicable to all sectors of employment in the economy. This minimum wage has been periodically adjusted upwards to keep pace with inflation trends.

In spite of ideological differences between the two major parties 1940s and 1950s, their economic policies over the 1950 to 1970 period converged rather closely. There was bipartisan consensus on the two major economic policy initiatives of the period, namely, the promotion of foreign investment (in bauxite, tourism, manufacturing, and the development of a local manufacturing industry.

In 1944 an Economic Policy Committee established by the colonial govenor and chaired by a British Economist, Dr F.C. Benham, opposed the provision of tariff protection to facilitate local manufacturing development.  The Committee dismissed manufacturing production as a real option for Jamaica, reflecting the colonial thinking which saw economies like Jamaica as permanent markets for industrial goods from Britain and as having no future outside of agriculture. This Committee was the first major initiative towards developing a local policy perspective on economies strategies for Jamaica in the colonial period.

Between 1944 and the mid-1950s this policy perspective on economic strategies changed radically as elected politicians came into full control of domestic economic policy. Greater self-confidence was infused into the business class as the political system was democratized. Urban merchant interest took on the challenge of shifting from merely being commission agents of foreign manufacturing companies to creating a local manufacturing sector6 with state support and protection.

The new policy thrust was pioneered by a black Jamaican entrepreneur, Robert Lightbourne, who had returned from Britain after establishing himself as an industrialist in Birmingham. He was brought back to Jamaica in 1951 by the JLP to establish the Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation which had the job of promoting the manufacturing sector. Following the lead given by the JLP, the PNP government (elected 1955) passed the two main instruments of legislation around which new industrial policies were developed. These were the Industrial Initiatves Law and the Export Industry Encouragement Law, both passed in 1956.

A period of industrial expansion unfolded between 1956 and 1967 when production in furniture, metal products, chemicals, food processing, garments and footware expanded rapidly. The period coincided with parallel expansion in bauxite, tourism and other services which all gave rise to a vibrant, new and increasingly wealthy and influential entrepreneurial class. The political directorate treated the interests of the new entrepreneurs as equal to the interests of the economy as a whole as the country's economic future seemed hinged on their continued expansion. They had easy access to the corridors of policy advice was sought after by the relatively inexperienced political directorate. They effectively replaced planters as the dominant owning interests after the earlier decline in plantation agriculture in the first two decades of the twentieth century due to low profitability, market displacement and loss of market share in Britain.

JLP and PNP policy convergence of the 1950s and 1960s collapsed and gave way to sharp policy divergence in the second half of the 1970s when the PNP articulated a radical socialist position which sought to re-structure the economy and society along democratic socialist lines.  The JLP's reaction was to affirm an opposing pro-capitalist or pro-free enterprise position that was sharply critical of these socialist policies.

A number of factors contributed to this shift in PNP ideology which created an enlarged ideological distance between the two parties. A new wave of populist redicalism had emerged after Independence outside of the two major parties and had fomented protest violence in that period. The movement articulated race and class issues and challenged the political system as having sold out to conservative interests. Its activist support came from the inner city ghettoes of Kingston its leadership from minority tendencies among the black intelligentsia. It spoke out militantly against race and class oppression and the absence of social justice in Jamaica. Both the leadership and activists in this movement of those who felt alienated in the post-Independence period rallied behind the new PNP leader Michael Manley who succeed father, Norman Manley, as party leader in 1969. A number of bright militants within this movement emerged as leaders within the (D.K. Duncan and Arnold Bertram for example). The younger Manley had limited his activities to trade unionism before he took over the PNP's leadership. As a new leader on the political scene who seemed unblemished by corrupting connections with the established politicians and the power structure, the new wave of radicals embraced Manley and he in turn saw his political mission as radicalizing Jamaican politics to incorporate these alienated elements into the mainstream of the country's political system.

Manley was also influenced by the thinking of the 'New World’ radical intelligentsia at the UWI and their criticisms of so-called neo-colonial' economic policies and dependence on foreign capital in the 1950s and 1960s as well as by their bias towards socialist solutions and nationalist strategies of economic ownership and control.

The third major influence was Manley's desire to establish himself as a Third World leader. This leadership promotion required close collaboration with the existing radical leftist leadership in the non-aligned Third World movement all of whom were ostensibly committed to socialism as a development approach and embraced varying versions of so-called non-capitalist development strategies. These leaders included Fidel Castro of Cuba, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Colonel Maummar Qaddafy of Libya and Colonel Boumedienne of Algeria.