The History of the JLP

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The History of the JLP

The Formative Years 1938 -1962

On the 10th April 1962, the Jamaica Labour Party won the general elections which were called to decide which Party should lead the island into Independence. In accepting the victory, Sir Alexander Bustamante the Prime Minister-Designate made a radio broadcast in which be restated the principles which had guided the Party since it was founded on July 8 1943, and which would still guide it as it led Jamaica on the path of nationhood. In the course of the broadcast he said:

“In 1938 when I first started to liberate Jamaica it was a time of great national troubles, and we were greatly in need of help of all kinds. I was offered communist help at the time and I refused it, for I have been always against communism.”

At that time when I led the movement against oppression and inequality, I told the people that no man was responsible for the colour of his skin. It was not the colour of his skin that counted but the man’s heart. Finally, when I led the workers against exploitation by employers I indicated that capital must learn to work fairly with labour and labour must give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Those have been the three cornerstones in the building of our nation and I have maintained the strength of my belief in these things throughout the years…”

Sir Alexander made reference to the difficulties that would face Jamaica in the future and concluded...

“But I have men of talent, and we have a programme that I aimed at lifting the small man, for his time has come to have better consideration and a better life.”

There, simply stated were the principles that had guided Bustamante through 24 years as Leader of the island’s most powerful trade union the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), and 19 years as the Leader of Jamaica’s most successful mass-based political organisation. The Party had been formed in 1943 to take the struggle of the workers, until then confined to collective bargaining and the advocacy of social legislation, to the field of politics where the power of the state could be won for the workers and become an instrument for the improvement of their standard of living, and the reduction of social and economic inequality.

The JLP won the first elections in which the propertyless working classes had a vote and remained in office until January 1955. During this time the foundation of our economy were laid and the first bauxite company started operations. A total of 88 schools were built to make space for 99,000 children of school age who were growing up in illiteracy. Programmes of land settlement made land available to small farmers.

In opposition the JLP continued to be the champion of the poor and to assert that the problems of poverty and unemployment could be dealt with through cooperation between labour and capital in a market economy. Growing confidence in the JLP and the Party’s successful advocacy of independent statehood instead of federation saw Sir Alexander Bustamante leading the Party to another victory in April 1962 and becoming the first Prime Minister of an Independent Jamaica.

The JLP Government continued to show concern for the education of the children. The JLP built 126 primary and 40 junior secondary schools to make primary and secondary education available to 64,000 children, who even in 1962 still had no school places. The Government implemented programmes to improve health care, water supplies and other social services including the construction of 3,000 houses per year. Two important pieces of social legislation were passed into law in 1964; the National Insurance Act to introduce the first programme of comprehensive social security and the Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens Employment Act to guarantee to qualified black Jamaicans the right of first option on the best jobs in the economy, and put an end to the colonial practice of reserving them for white expatriates. The Government also condemned the practice of banks and airline companies of only employing fair-skinned Jamaicans in clerical and managerial positions.

Bustamante retired in 1966, Donald Sangster led the JLP into the 1967 elections which the Party won only to have Sangster die after one month in office. Hugh Shearer succeeded Sangster as Prime Minister and Edward Seaga succeeded him as Minister of Finance. It was to be more growth under the Shearer Administration, and increasing use of the budget by Seaga as an instrument of social policy. There were two famous budgets. The Reform Budget which announced government’s intention to introduce Family Courts, a National Youth Service, a National Minimum Wage and Legal Reform to protect the inheritance rights of children of unmarried parents and to remove the concept of bastardy from, the laws of Jamaica. These progressive programmes were still in the planning stage when the JLP lost the 1972 elections and the credit for all the progressive programmes went to another administration. The budget also introduced measures which drew more taxes from the more prosperous section of the society and removed from the tax roll 20,000 small taxpayers who were earning less than £500 per year. The "Share-The-Wealth" Budget (1970) introduced a programme of grants to unemployed female heads of households who needed funding to set themselves up in small-scale businesses. Poor relief rates were increased, gratuitous grants of NIS pensions were made to retired and destitute persons who had not made enough contributions to qualify as of right. The administration, inspired by Prime Minister Shearer passed laws to entitle categories of workers not covered by collective bargaining, to vacation leave with pay and another was passed to entitle workers who had a certain number of years of service with their firms to receive redundancy payments.

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) was founded to give coherence to and lead the way in the development of urban and foreshore properties. The financial infrastructure needed to promote growth in a developing country including institutions like the Jamaica Development Bank (JDB) and Merchant Banks, was put in place.

Very importantly, initiatives were started which aimed to give Jamaicans a greater stake in the productive enterprises in the country through a programme of Jamaicanization of certain financial institutions and then by the purchase of extensive tracts for sugar lands for redistribution to cane farmers.

The sixties were very good years for Jamaica. The economy grew at an average rate of 6 per cent per year, and Jamaica recorded the highest per capita growth amount the independent developing countries in the Latin American region. There was tremendous improvement in opportunity for employment, education and the social services; infant mortality declined from 49 to 31 per thousand and by the calculations of Professor Carl Stone there was a 225% improvement in the standard of living of the people between 1962 and 1972.

And yet there were groups in the society that sought to belittle this achievement and to suggest that with a new approach to government, things could be made substantially better in a short tine. The JLP was defeated in 1972 by the notion that its great achievements were trifling and that under another government better would come.

Culture 1962 -1987

A peoples’ culture is expressed in the relationship they work out with their environment. Government, by encouraging the cultural expression of the people helps to develop the sense of national purpose and identity that gives coherence to the efforts a people in search of progress. While the Jamaican people have always on a local level and in an unselfconscious manner celebrated their culture, it was the JLP Government in 1963 that started the Annual Jamaica Festival which put a national perspective and significance on formerly unstructured local activity. Festival has been a platform for popular music, craft, the culinary arts, elocution, folk dance and other forms of expression which give us our special identity as Jamaicans. In recognition of the cultural links with Africa the Government set out to establish friendly relations with the newly independent nations of Africa and it was at the Invitation of the JLP Government in 1966 that Emperor Haile Selassie, revered by Rastafarians, was invited to visit Jamaica. It was the JLP Government that established the Order of the National Hero and procured the return of Marcus Garvey’s remains, in 1964. In a moving ceremony at National Heroes Park, Garvey was officially recognised for what he had always been, a hero of the Jamaican people It was the JLP Government that last year invited freedom fighter Archbishop Desmond Tutu to visit Jamaica.

Through the Social Development Commission and the Sports Development Agency before that, the JLP Government provided training and encouragement for athletes and sportsmen, developing discipline, providing recreation and the path to high achievement.

In Opposition 1972-1980

On the 10th April 1962, the Jamaica Labour Party won the general elections which were called to decide which Party should lead the island into Independence. in accepting the victory, Sir Alexander Bustamante the Prime Minister-Designate made a radio broadcast in which be restated the principles which had guided the Party since it was founded on July 8 1943, and which would still guide it as it led Jamaica on the path of nationhood. In the course of the broadcast he said:

The JLP had it second sojourn in opposition Mr. Shearer, after a successful Prime Ministership, relinquished the leadership of the Party and was succeeded by Edward Seaga in November l974. The new JLP leader was given a baptism of fire in terms of abuse and harassment by a governing party that was riding high on the road to socialism. When in 1975 Seaga quoted government documents to show that the country was on a collision course with bankruptcy the level of abuse and harassment was increased. In 1976 the country had general elections under a state of emergency. It was justified by the Government in terms of the level of political violence prevailing. A large number of JLP supporters, candidates and organisers were locked up, and the campaign machinery of the Party was virtually crippled. None of the persons detained faced any criminal charges and an enquiry in 1971 revealed a high level of corruption in the use of emergency powers.

In 1977, the JLP launched a campaign for electoral reform as a response to the high level of fraud that had been used against the Party in the 1976 Elections. After a determined campaign by the JLP, the Government conceded; a programme of electoral reform was agreed on, and with economic collapse facing the PNP Government in 1980, the country went into elections in October which the JLP won, 51 seats to 9.

In Government 1980 -1989

The economy was in shambles. The fiscal deficit (government borrowing to make up the difference between revenue and expenditure) had reached the unsustainable level of 17% of Gross Domestic Product. Foreign exchange resources had been wiped out, inflation between 1979 and 1980 was 45%, and the economy had been in constant decline since 1974. Unemployment had risen from 183,000 in 1972 to 256,000 in 1980 and Jamaica had reverted to the 1943 position of having 100,000 children of school age growing up in illiteracy. The main sectors of the economy were working below capacity; tourism 50% below, sugar 35% below and construction 71%. Deficit spending and state intervention had ruined the Jamaica economy.

Two main tasks facing Prime Minister Seaga’s Administration, one was to stabilise the financial accounts and get the vital indicators pointing away from collapse toward growth, the other was to structurally adjust the economy in order to create more pillars of economic support. In 1980, only one pillar of the economy, the bauxite industry had remained standing.

Economic stabilization and structural adjustment were off to a promising start in 1981 until in 1982 when the bauxite industry began to buckle under the impact of unfavourable conditions in the international market. The stabilisation and adjustment policies became more austere, there had to be cutbacks in social services and the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar became the centerpiece of the country’s survival strategy. The value of the Jamaican dollar in terms of US currency moved from $1.78 in 1983 to $5.50 in 1985.

The devaluation caused a sharp rise, in the cost of living and consequent hardships to many poor people. But it brought a dramatic turnaround in an ailing tourist industry that was being stifled by an overvalued currency. It opened new avenues to success for small farmers for the export of their crops. It made possible new ventures in the garment industry and data entry, the former moving from employment levels of 2,000 in 1980 to over 20,000 in 1986. The sugar industry was rehabilitated, the banana industry was given a new lease on life and the bauxite industry was saved from collapse by the government taking over the Alcoa Plant at Halse HaIl when the owners wanted to quit Jamaica. That plant is now one of the most efficient in the world and the projections are for increased bauxite production next year. The manufacturing sector, which has been the slowest to respond to the challenge of the 80’s, is now developing momentum for growth.

All the economic indicators are now in a positive direction. The fiscal deficit has been dramatically reduced to 2.1% of GDP, inflation this year will be held at 7%, unemployment has been reduced to 23.6% and the economy has grown in the first quarter of the financial year at a rate that if sustained for the year would come to 8% growth!

In all the economic emergency of the early 80’s, the government never for one moment lost its concern for the welfare of the people. For most of the time, however the scarce funds available had to be directed to restoring the foundations of the economy and avoiding the worse grief that total economic collapse would have brought upon the people. There was urgent need to save the children and other vulnerable groups in the society and when these things were done, there was just not enough left to adequately maintain health and other social services. Now that the austerity policies have succeeded in restoring economic viability and the economy is poised for growth, it had become possible in this year to substantially increase spending on the important areas of health, housing, roads and water supplies. The problems and shortcomings in the services aside, what is being done for the children, the youth, the women, the farmers, and the unemployed and the aged been truly tremendous when one considers the difficult situation in which the government was operating. For the children a school construction programme was developed to build 40 new primary schools but space was not all, because to this was added a textbook and a greatly expanded school-feeding programme which altogether have constituted the most effective drive against ignorance and illiteracy in modern Jamaica. A thrust of a similar nature is now being developed at the level of the basic schools.

A whole complex of youth programmes have been developed to deal effectively with the training and employment needs of young people so that every child leaving school and some already out of school will have some institution to turn to and graduation in the future will not need to be graduation into uncertainty or unemployment. There is H.E.A.R.T., SOLIDARITY, L.E.A.P and the Self-Start Fund. The special needs of working class women as heads of households are being met in terms of the over 20,000 jobs created in the garment and data entry industries. Through the Food Aid Programme, nursing mothers and young children are given the means to ensure their nourishment. Other special needs of woman are being met in the Crisis Centres, Family Planning Clinics and S.D.C. Programmes. Farmers are benefiting from the greatest programme of land distribution in the history of Jamaica, through new loan schemes and through having new export markets for their crops. Workers are benefiting from tax reform, improved wages and new opportunities for employment that have been created. The senior citizens enjoy improved N.I.S. benefits and the Food Aid Programme which is a safety-net to maintain a basic level of nutrition for the poor and the destitute. Senior have also been rehoused in dignity at the Golden Age Home. Special programmes have also been developed for handicapped persons.

In Government 2007 -2011

On September 3, 2007, the Jamaica Labour Party won the general elections and became the government of Jamaica. At that time, the Party Leader was Mr. Bruce Golding, its Chairman Dr Ken Baugh, and its General Secretary, Mr Karl Samuda.

After more than 18 years in opposition, the energies, hopes and aspirations of our people were high, and after the damage done during that time to the country’s economy, investment appetite and social systems, there was much work to be done. Unfortunately, shortly after the JLP took over the reins of government, the country joined the world in experiencing the worst global recession since the turn of the century. Countries much wealthier than Jamaica crumbled into deep and fractious social and fiscal unrest, experiencing massive job cuts in the public and private sectors.

Despite the best efforts of the PNP which followed through on their leader’s election night pledge to be the government’s worst nightmare, social stability was maintained. Although the pain of job losses was experienced across Jamaica, the severity of losses experienced elsewhere was constrained, and economic stability was established. The country was put back on the path to job creation and a framework created for entrepreneurship and business to thrive and create robust employment. As an administration, we committed to strengthening our relationships with our unions and our public sector workers in order to build a better Jamaica. This remained a challenging task in light of wage increase demands and economic constraints.

Tough decisions had to be taken to balance the daily needs of our people with the need for long term correction of our economic conditions and Jamaica started to reap the early signs of success.

Our People

We remained committed to our promises to remove hospital user fees for all Jamaicans, and tuition fees up to the secondary school level for all Jamaican children.

We remained committed to protecting the poorest and most vulnerable, doubling the PATH benefits available, and adding more than 100,000 people to this social safety net.

We remained committed to strengthening early childhood development policies and programmes, implementing new strategies as well as the multi-sector five (5) year National Strategic Plan which now serves as a model to the developing world.

We remained committed to our university students, recapitalizing and restructuring the Students' Loan Bureau to allow more students easier access to more loans, lower interest rates and lower insurance costs, and with more time to pay.

We remained committed to empowering young people with literacy, numeracy and employable skills through the Career Advancement Programme (CAP) which had over 12,000 young people enrolled in 78 institutions, as well as entrepreneurship programmes through the National Centre for Youth Development (NYCD) and other agencies. The ASTEP programme was introduced in secondary schools to support remedial education needs.

Water Housing & Health

We remained committed to improving Jamaicans’ access to potable water, bringing water to about 88,000 rural residents and improving the supply to residents of Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine; upgraded water supply to 28 Rural Communities and Spanish Town; as well as commenced major sewerage upgrades and improvements across the corporate area.

We also launched the Jamaica Water Sector Improvement Project, funded with more than US$215M to upgrade infrastructure and provide water to communities which never had before.

We remained committed to addressing informal settlements, and started eight (8) formalization projects, all with consultation, training and direct involvement of the residents to ensure they were at the centre of the outcomes.

We upgraded infrastructure and titled 5000 informal settlers. Over 10,000 splinter titles were prepared and distribution commenced. Housing starts also reached 6000 due to improvements in policy, management and operations in the sector.

We remained committed to improving health facilities and upgraded sixty three (63) health centres across all fourteen (14) parishes, as well as the facilities at eight (8) hospitals in seven (7) parishes.


We remained committed to our promise of an agricultural revolution, empowering our farmers with better practices, better support, land titling assistance and more access to funding.

We increased productivity, introduced farmers’ markets and restored pride to eating local produce.


We were one of only five (5) countries in the world to increase visitor arrivals during the current global recession, we opened new attractions and passed laws to bring new investments to Jamaica to employ even more people in the sector.


We reduced by double digit percentages, the murder and serious crime rates which had for decades spiraled out of control, by implementing a mix of new laws and new strategies, and by identifying and promoting good leadership and good policing within the constabulary.

We tackled the monster of political association with criminal gangs, during one of the most challenging periods in our nation’s political history, and we used this unprecedented crisis to provide the impetus and opportunity for change in our country’s governance.


We remained committed to constituency development funding to ensure that all communities, regardless of political representation, would be provided with Parliament approved funding to meet their developmental needs.

We remained committed to transparency, creating a Public Appropriations and Administration Committee in Parliament, chaired by an Opposition member, and appointing Opposition members to chair other important standing committees of Parliament.

We strengthened our commitment to the fight against corruption, creating the Independent Commission of Investigations, removing corrupt police personnel from the Force, and passing and tabling bills to change our defamation laws, implement groundbreaking whistleblowing legislation, and a special prosecutor bill.


We sold entities that had been losing billions of dollars of tax payers’ money for years, stemming bleeding major source of loss, and we brought in millions of dollars of foreign investments.

We implemented the Jamaica Debt Exchange, now known as the world’s most successful debt swap. It saved the country billions of dollars per year in interest charges and provided the government with more time to meet certain obligations.

We engineered the lowest interest rates in thirty (30) years, a stable dollar, and single digit inflation rates, all macro-economic indicators of a foundation for the economic growth which our country so badly needed.

Despite these achievements and more, the Party’s reputation was damaged heavily by the administration’s management of the extradition of Christopher Coke, the related events of May 2010 in Tivoli Gardens, as well as allegations regarding the Party’s relationship with a US lobby firm. These issues dominated media for the better part of a year, and were not lessened by the administration’s decision, in the interest of transparency, to establish a Commission of Enquiry into issues regarding the lobby firm. The negative public perceptions generated, ultimately resulted in the resignation of Bruce Golding as Prime Minister and Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party. He announced his intention to resign to the Central Executive of the Party on Sunday September 25, 2011. After discussions among Parliamentarians, it was agreed between them that the next Prime Minister and Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party would be Andrew Holness, who had not only served 3 terms as a Member of Parliament, but by then, was the most popular JLP Minister, having developed a string of accomplishments in the Ministry of Education, and a reputation for balance and integrity, much needed to re-build shaken confidence in the JLP.

On Sunday, October 23, 2011, the Hon. Andrew Holness was sworn in as Prime Minister of Jamaica, and at the JLP’s next annual conference on November 20, 2011, he was elected unopposed as the Leader of the JLP. With the pressures of IMF conditions to be met, and the need for the stronger mandate necessary to implement the changes the country needed to build on the foundations laid over the previous 4 years, an election date was set for December 29, 2011. The Jamaica Labour Party lost the election which saw the second lowest voter turnout since adult suffrage in 1944 (52.6% of the electorate). Only 28% of the electorate voted for the PNP, providing a significant opportunity for the JLP to work until the next general elections to capture and recapture the hearts and minds of those Jamaicans who did not vote due to disenchantment with the political process.

At the close of this period, the Leader of the Party was Hon Andrew Holness, the Chairman, Mr. L. Mike Henry and the General Secretary, Mr Aundre Franklyn.


The Jamaica Labour Party has a more effective record of public service than any other political organisation in Jamaica. The period spent in office by the JLP before 1972 were periods of remarkable growth and improvement in the standard of living of the ordinary people. In the eighties, and again in 2007, the JLP’s task was to effect the recovery of the shattered economy giving rise to the view that when the nation is facing serious challenges, it calls upon the JLP give leadership. This was the case in 1944 when power was to be transferred to the people, in 1962 when the country embarked on the path of nationhood, in the eighties after the PNP’s economically disastrous experiment of the seventies, and again in 2007 after 18 years of PNP rule. The JLP has formed the Government for less than half of the 52 years of our independence but the assessment of the JLP’s contribution to Jamaica must reach back beyond 1962.

It was the BITU and then the JLP that asserted the dignity of the working man and the right of the humble people to be treated with respect. This was considered an impertinence by the socio-economic elite that had been accustomed to treating black people with contempt, and all their ridicule was poured into the term “Dutty Labourite” that was used to describe the followers of Bustamante.

The JLP asserted in the name of the workers, the right to have a voice in the management of public affairs. The wealthy landowners had dominated politics until 1944 and what the middle class professionals had offered in 1938 was their patronage. Bustamante asserted the ability of the workers to develop their own leaders and to manage public affairs and the JLP was given this mandate in 1944. What followed was a period of steady improvement in living standards until 1973. After the seventies, the JLP presided over the steady rebuilding of industry and economic growth until losing office in 1989. In a single term from 2007 -2011 the JLP again stabilized the economy despite the worst global recession in 80 years, a world oil crisis, world food crisis and chronic natural disasters.

In the whole sweep of our recent history the JLP if not in office, was still part of the balance. In an emerging two-party democracy, being a watchdog for the people’s interest and a safeguard against abuse of power. The founding of the JLP was the guarantee of political democracy and it saved the country from the evils that may come when there is only one party in the state.

In Jamaican politics, the JLP continues to advocate the market-oriented approach to economic development believing that people are most productive when allowed to engage in economic activity on their own behalf, because the opportunity for individual ownership that it provides is in accord with the natural instincts of Jamaicans.

The JLP believes that undue government intervention in economic activity limits the scope for the exercise of individual economic initiative, encourages mismanagement and becomes a restraint on national development. The JLP still believes that the support of both capital and labour are necessary for Jamaica and Jamaicans to reach our full potential.

The JLP in 1943 was established as an organisation born of the working class, dedicated to the interest, of that grouping and being a channel for the aspirations of humble people. The JLP is still inspired by its original principles and still works to improve the economic framework of the country and to reduce social and economic inequality and for the improvement of the standard of living of the small man, for his need for better consideration and a better life is no less urgent than it was in 1962.