In Jamaica, Hero Day is Gone

In Jamaica, Hero Day is Gone

BEFORE THE Jamaican elections last December I visited Clive Dobson, president of the National Workers Union (NWU), at the union’s modest, two-story office amid the Victorian decay of downtown Kingston. Michael Manley headed this union for nearly twenty years before he was first elected prime minister in 1972. Old-timers like Dobson still talk of the resounding ninety-seven-day strike against the state television company in 1964, when Manley, a light-skinned son of privilege, led marches and mass lie-downs at the company headquarters. He exhorted the workers to bring down the “walls of Jericho,” and the workers called him “Joshua.”

As prime minister, Manley enacted minimum-wage laws, compulsory recognition of labor unions, maternity leave for women, and equal status under the law for children born to unwed parents. In the end, though, he could not deliver Jamaicans to the promised land, and historians will be pondering for years his ill-starred attempt to build democratic socialism in the 1970s and his startling shift to market liberalization after Jamaicans returned him to power in 1989.

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Lima