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Sir Alexander Bustamante

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Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante , National Hero of Jamaica(24 February 1884 – 6 August 1977) was a Jamaicanpolitician and labor leader.Alexander Bustamante was an aggressive, outspoken young man who understood the dynamics of labor relations. A charismatic and impressive speaker, he used the media to criticize the prevailing political system and its attendant social problems. He started the Industrial Trade Union in 1938 and was jailed for 17 months following labor riots.

He was born as William Alexander Clarke to an Irish Roman Catholic planter, Robert Constantine Clarke, and wife Mary née Wilson, who was of mixed race. He claimed that he took the name Bustamante to honor an Iberiansea captain who befriended him in his youth.

After travelling the world, including working as a policeman in Cubaand as a dietician in a New York Cityhospital, he returned to Jamaica in 1932 and became a leader of the struggle against colonial rule. He first brought himself to public attention as a writer of letters to the Daily Gleanernewspaper; in 1937 he became treasurer of the Jamaica Workers' Union which had been founded by labor activist Allan G.S. Coombs. During the 1938 labor rebellion he quickly became identified as the spokesman for striking workers. Coombs' JWU became the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union(BITU) after the revolt, and Bustamante became known as "The Chief".

He was imprisoned for subversive activities in 1940. However, the anti-colonial effort resulted in the granting of universal suffrageto Jamaica. He was released from prisonin 1943 and founded the Jamaica Labour Partythe same year, having previously been a member of the party founded by his cousin, Norman Manley, the People's National Party(founded 1938). Bustamante's party won 22 of 32 seats in the first House of Representatives elected by universal suffrage, making Bustamante the unofficial government leader (as Minister for Communications) until the position of Chief Ministerwas created in 1953. He held this position until the JLP was defeated in 1955. In 1947 and 1948 he also served as mayorof Kingston.

Though initially a supporter, he came to be an opponent of the Federation of the West Indiesand agitated for Jamaica to become an independent state. It was Bustamante's decision that the JLP would not contest a by-election to the federal parliament that resulted in his rival and cousin, Premier Norman Manley, calling the referendum in 1961 that led to Jamaica's withdrawal and the break-up of the Federation.

Jamaica was granted independence in 1962 and Bustamante served as the independent country's first Prime Ministeruntil 1967. However, in 1965 he withdrew from active participation in public life, and real power was held by his deputy, Donald Sangster.

In 1969, Bustamante was proclaimed a 'National Hero of Jamaica', along with Norman Manley, the black liberationist Marcus Garveyand two leaders of the 1865 Morant Bay rebellion, Paul Bogleand George William Gordon.

Bustamante died in 1977 and was buried in the National Heroes Parkin Kingston.

Bustamante’s Backbone

There is a Jamaican cuisinecandy named after Bustamante called the Bustamante backbone. It is a hard grated coconut and sugar confection "which is said to represent his firmness of character." Bustamante was considered a "buster", "a champion of the common man and tough article." Gizzadais a sweet that has some similarities.

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The Life of Bustamante

When news reached Kingston of the historic fatal clash between workers and armed police at Frome on May 2, 1938, William Alexander Bustamante closed his money-lending business for the day and went by car to Frome with his secretary, Miss Gladys Longbridge.

Bustamante felt destiny tugging at his sleeve. He was ready to go where it led him. Tall (6ft. 4 ins.), handsome, physically strong, truculent, courageous, self-confident and stylish, Bustamante had seen life in many lands and had returned home four years earlier, at the age of 50, to settle.

During the four years from 1934 to 1938, he had impressed his name on the society by a series of letters to the editor of the Gleaner and occasionally to British newspapers, almost always calling attention to the social and economic problems of the poor and underprivileged in Jamaica.

Between 1935 and 1936 he had conducted an "anti-water-meter protest". In January 1937 he had intervened in a strike at Serge Island Estate, offering his services as a mediator. Later that year he had become Treasurer of the Jamaica Workers' and Tradesmen's Union, founded in 1936 by A. G. S. Coombs.

He had earlier identified with the workers' cause with regard to disturbances in Trinidad, Barbados and other West Indian islands in the 1930’s.

Bustamante and Coombs had travelled around the country promoting their union and giving hope to struggling workers. By early 1938 our hero was sharing platforms in Kingston with St. William Grant, whose para-military uniform signified an earlier association with another hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

Bustamante had savoured the limelight and enjoyed the taste of it.

The workers needed a leader and he was ready to lead.

Blessed with natural intelligence and wit, he had gained much wisdom over the years, particularly from his wide travels

On any stage he could hold audiences in his power and turn phrases that were lovingly repeated by folk across the land. His towering height, his long stride, his bushy hair, his calculated dramatic gestures were important elements in the dominant Bustamante personality.

Most important, he was a born gladiator, a factor that not only suited his role as champion of the working classes but also led him to his political career and largely determined the course of that career.

Accounts of Bustamante's early life are many and varied but a number of facts are clearly established.

He was born at Blenheim Estate in Hanover on February 24, 1884. His father was an Irish planter named Robert Constantine Clarke, and his mother, a Jamaican of mixed blood, was Mary Clarke nee Wilson. He was named William Alexander Clarke, but was later to change his name by deed poll. Bustamante was the second of five children of the Clarke family. He had three sisters, Louise, Iris and Maud, and a younger brother, Herbert.
He also had two elder sisters, Ida and Daisy Clarke, by a previous marriage of his father. His grandmother Elsie Clarke-Shearer was also the grandmother of Bustamante's great contemporary and fellow National Hero, Norman Washington Manley.

Bustamante attended elementary school at Cacoon and Dalmalley, and also did private studies. In 1904 he was employed as a Store Clerk for C. E. Johnson & Company on the north coast. Shortly after this he became a junior overseer at Belmont.

For thirty years, beginning in 1905, the restless Bustamante travelled about the hemisphere, particularly to Cuba, Panama, the United States and his native Jamaica, trying his hand at a wide variety of occupations, including security work, dairy farming, transportation and beekeeping. The Latin American influence and his penchant for the romantic caused a change of name from William Alexander Clarke to Alejandro Bustamante, later anglicised by deed poll to Alexander Bustamante.

It is believed that Bustamante made a considerable amount of money speculating on the Wall Street stock market. Back in Jamaica in the mid-thirties his money-lending business prospered, but while it gave him a livelihood it also opened his eyes to the appalling plight of the poor. This exposure was reflected in his Gleaner letters and in his early union work, which served as an apprenticeship for the momentous work that destiny had reserved for him.
In April 1938, when attacked by the Jamaica Standard newspaper, Bustamante told a crowd of 2,000 at North Parade: "I want the Standard to know that I represent the lower and middle class people in Jamaica. They have confidence in me".

That confidence took him to Frome in the aftermath of the disturbances that had left six dead, fifty wounded and 89 charged with rioting.

Frome was the breakingpoint in the seething unrest islandwide over pay and conditions of work and massive unemployment. It was also the start of a series of strikes, demonstrations and disturbances in which Bustamante stamped his name indelibly as the people's champion. Whereever there were labour problems throughout Jamaica, he was with the workers.
Dock workers, labourers, railway workers, and the police were among those who took industrial action during the first half of May 1938.

Bustamante claimed that Britain, "the mother country", was not aware of the state of affairs in Jamaica, because she was badly informed or misinformed by Governor Denham. The labour leader denounced Denham at a meeting of 7,000 at the Parade on May 4.

On May 8, Bustamante told a crowd at Race Course (National Heroes' Park), "Long live the King! But Denham must go". He said that the Government was planning to arrest him because he had exposed to the British Parliament the evils in Jamaica.

On May 6 Governor Denham had named a commission of inquiry into the Frome affair and shortly after a Royal Commission headed by Lord Moyne was sent to the West Indies by Colonial Office.

In mid-May Bustamante told a large crowd in front of the Ward Theatre that “two Knights” were advocating his arrest, “but they, not I, should be very careful I am above them, for while they want to live forever I am prepared to die today”. The crowd warmed to Bustamante. He told them, “I am more powerful than the Governor”. They sang, “We will follow Bustamante till we die”.
On May 23, Kingston port-workers supported a strike call by Bustamante. Their demand was for higher wages.

At daybreak Bustamante addressed a hugh meeting at the corner of Duke and Harbour Streets. He said that what was taking place in Jamaica was “a mental revolution”. He and St. William Grant spoke at a number of rallies on that day.

At one of them, when the security forces threatened to open fire on the crowd, Bustamante unbuttoned his shirt, thrust forward and invited the soldiers to leave the people alone and shoot him.

Later in the day, at another rally, he and St. William Grant were arrested and charged with sedition. No bail was allowed. On May 27, Norman Manley went to the waterfront to find out a first hand what the workers wanted so that he could take up representations on their behalf.

The workers answered; “We want Bustamante”. They would not return to work before his release, regardless of what other terms were offered. Manley joined that team of lawyers advocating the release of Bustamante and Grant, and on May 28 they were freed on bail. Later the charges were dropped.

Bustamante then saw the need to organize the labour movement in a legal way and he worked closely to this end with Norman Manley, Noel Nethersole and others who were about to lead a new political movement, the People’s National Party (PNP).

Bustamante gave his full support to the party, founded in September 1938, just as the party gave its support to his Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), founded in May of that year.

The events of May 1938 were the start of a long series of strikes lasting well into 1939. Indeed at the end of 1938, Bustamante had predicted that 1939 would be a year of turmoil on the labour scene.

In January, a strike closed the Constant Spring Hotel, another closed the Canadian National Steamship Company. Police shot a worker at Montpelier. The waterfront was tied up by a strike. The tourism industry was hit by labour unrest. There were demonstrations. The security forces were everywhere eyeball to eyeball with Bustamante and the workers.

The labour leader intoned: “I have made up my mind to fight for the workers of this country. No longer are the workers afraid of bayonets. They are prepared to fight for their rights”.

Bustamante’s involvement with the PNP did not last long. It seems that he was dissatisfied with his role in the party as he felt he was playing second fiddle to the PNP intellectuals. He drifted away from the party and concentrated on the labour front.

In late February 1939 he called a general strike. It went badly, because of lack of organization and because “the Chief” apparently had not given deep thought to its implications.

Still, there was serious dislocation as the important banana industry was brought to a halt and the longshoremen, as always, backed their leader. There was chaos at the ports.

The Governor, Sir Authur Richards, declared a state of emergency, alerted the military and sternly warned against law-breaking.

Manley got assurances from Richards that if the strike was settled immediately no punitive action would be taken, but the Governor, ready to unleash the full force of his powers, threatened that if the strike was not settled Bustamante would be imprisoned.

Bustamante accepted the compromise deal negotiated by Manley, declaring, "I am beaten this time, and I'll have to give in" but that he alone controlled the masses and that if he was tested again there would be great trouble in Jamaica.

As part of the deal the BITU submitted itself to the authority of a Trades Union Council, launched at a mass meeting at Race Course.

Later in the year Bustamante withdrew the BITU from the Trades Union Council and resigned his membership of the PNP, claiming the party was too radical.

A period of relative calm was broken when Bustamante called a strike of workers at Serge Island sugar estate. Governor Richards warned that the military might have to be called in to maintain order. Bustamante reacted sharply and bitterly. He called another strike on the waterfront. The shipping agents used non-union labour to break the strike. Bustamante announced that he would call a general strike. Richards suspended all leave for the army and armed the police. Bustamante was placed in detention at Up Park Camp on September 8, 1940, for alleged violation of the Defence of the Realm Act.

Richards released Bustamante from detention on February 8, 1942,

For a while Bustamante behaved with great restraint, but then he lashed out against the PNP leaders, claiming a betrayal of trust.

The political movement was irretrievably split and Bustamante founded the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in 1943 to prepare for Jamaica's first general election under universal adult suffrage.

When the election came, in December 1944, the JLP won 22 seats in the 32-member House of Representatives, the PNP 4 seats and Independent candidates 6 seats. Subsequently the independents declared themselves or consistently voted in such a way that the JLP enjoyed an effective 27 - 5 majority in the House.

Bustamante, who won the Western Kingston constituency by a huge majority, was appointed Minister of Communications and Works. He was however the de facto leader of the elected element in a semi-representative Executive Council headed by the Governor, and was the principal Government spokesman in the House.

In the 1944 election campaign Bustamante had promised "a little more bread and a little more butter". He had predicted that in time he would be Mayor of Kingston and Prime Minister and Governor of Jamaica. As an ex-officio member of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) Council he was elected Mayor of Kingston for 1947 - 48.

In the 1949 general election, the JLP won 18 seats to the PNP's 14, though the PNP enjoyed a plurality of the popular vote.

Bustamante had left Western Kingston and won the SouthEastern Clarendon seat, again by a large majority.

Under an advanced constitution he was appointed Chief Minister and presided over an elected Executive Council with a small non-elected element.

The JLP lost power to the PNP in the general election of January 1955 and with his great rival and cousin Norman Manley now Chief Minister (later Premier), Bustamante became Leader of the Opposition.

The Queen conferred on Bustamante the title Knight Bachelor, also in 1955.

During the closing years of the 1945 - 55 JLP administration, Jamaica took the first steps towards joining a federation of ten British West Indian islands. The formal agreement on federation was completed by the Manley Government and Jamaica became a founding member of the federation in 1958.

However, major differences between the federal Government and the larger members (Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago) and between the units, with Jamaica often embroiled in conflict with the Southern and Eastern Caribbean, threatened the life of the federation almost from its birth.

Bustamante, meanwhile, had been elected leader of the Democratic Labour Party of the West Indies. In the federal election of February 1958 he campaigned on a platform in Jamaica which contended that Jamaica was under-represented in the federal Parliament and therefore would be at a disadvantage in the federal capital, Port of Spain, a thousand miles away.

Bustamante's JLP swept Jamaica in the federal general election winning 12 of the 17 seats, but was the minority party in the federal Parliament as Manley's West Indies Federal Labour Party won strong support in the other islands.

Though leaders of their respective federal parties, neither Bustamante nor Manley stood for a seat in the West Indies Parliament.

Bustamante maintained a posture as guardian of the Jamaican interest in the federation, with the help of a number of prominent JLP-DLP opposition members in the federal Parliament.

When the Trinidad & Tobago Government announced that it would establish a milk condensery, Bustamante, claiming the Jamaican interest would be damaged, reacted with characteristic hyperbole. "Trinidad has no cow. I have more cows on my property than they have in the entire Trinidad”.

Bustamante announced that he would withdraw Jamaica from the federation when next the JLP won power. Manley called a referendum to let the people decide on Jamaica's future regarding the federation.

Though Manley freed the federation question from the strait jacket of party discipline, thus allowing alliances of conscience, the referendum was effectively a PNP versus JLP affair. The JLP won an emphatic anti-federation vote on September 19, 1961.

Jamaica therefore prepared to withdraw from the federation and assume independence as a unitary state.

Bustamante was a member of the joint parliamentary committee, led by Premier Manley, that drafted the independence constitution, and he was one of the signatories of the independence agreement when it was concluded in London.

In a general election on April 10, 1962, the JLP was returned to power with 26 of 45 seats in the House. Bustamante was appointed Premier.

When Jamaica became independent on August 6, 1962, he was named the new nation's first Prime Minister. One month later, he married his private secretary, Miss Gladys Longbridge, on the day of his departure for his first Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

Two years after taking office, Bustamante, now 80 years old, became ill. Donald Sangster was appointed Acting Prime Minister. Bustamante never returned to active involvement in affairs of state. He officially retired in 1967.

After that time he was appointed a National Hero, the only living one, and he received visitors at the former Prime Minister's residence, Jamaica House, at his Tucker Avenue residence, in Kingston, and at his mountain cottage in Irish Town.

"Busta" or "The Chief", as he was affectionately called, received numerous honours from many countries.
A life-sized statue of him stands at South Parade, the scene of real-life dramas he dominated, his portrait appears on the Jamaican one-dollar bill, his birthplace is a national shrine, and even a "sweet" bears his name.

In addition, Newport West,. East and adjoining port areas were renamed Bustamante Port in keeping with the National Hero's long association with the labour movement. The Children's Hospital which Sir Alexander had converted from an old army hospital was named the Bustamante Hospital for Children. In 1979 a 30 foot monument in honour of Sir Alexander was unveiled in the National Heroes Park.

"The Chief" in his later years was a farmer, the owner of a large property at Retreat in St. Thomas.

In failing health, his eyesight dimmed, his tall slim body weathered by years of living, working and travelling, the old warrior refused to give up the fight for life.

The man who, 54 years old in 1938, said that he was then prepared to die, battled on for nearly forty more years.

Finally, at the grand old age of 93, he lost. And, showing the precision of timing that was a feature of his life, he crossed the threshold on August 6, 1977 - fifteen years to the day after Jamaica's attainment of independence and his appointment as our first Prime Minister.

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Blenheim Hanover, ,

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Categories: Jamaica