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Caribbean Studies 6A


More than fifty years have elapsed since Jamaica received its political independence
from Britain. However, Jamaica's political and economic enfranchisement has been
sabotaged and continues to be hindered by the legacy of colonialism. The nation is akin to a
baby who still retains its connection to its mother, as its umbilical cord was never severed at
birth. As the baby matures, underdeveloped with limited mobility, it is restricted in its
movement while the apathetic mother possesses a great degree of control; she can impose her
will, put unfair demands on the child, withhold food, and take from the child if the child does
not conform to her wishes .This metaphor represents the legacy of the colonial system in
Jamaica today. Political enfranchisement can be defined as the right of a people to be
involved and to participate in the art of decision making in a country. Economic
enfranchisement can refer to rights on two different levels. It is the right of an individual to
participate in the production and distribution of goods and services. Additionally, it is the
right of a country to determine its means of production and distribution of goods, services and
assets. However Jamaicas political and economic enfranchisement has been denied by the
systems of proprietorship, the ORS (Old Representative System), the Crown Colony
government and continue to be undermined even after independence by an evident neo-
colonial system. Slavery represents an important part of Jamaican history and the cultivated
dominant atmosphere, as the slave mode of production was a crucial factor in the
establishment of Jamaicas structural society. The colour-class hierarchy introduced in the
plantation society during slavery was perpetuated in the political and economic spheres of
society throughout this history. As a result of this inequality, Jamaicans suffering from the
poor socio-economic conditions plotted and carried out rebellions, protests, strikes, riots and
demonstrations. Largely responsible for the suffering of the people was the negligence of the
government. Many citizens could not participate in the decision making process, and had no
control over the distribution of goods and services in the island. In this way, the structures
imposed by the colonial system, deprived Jamaica of economic and political

One of the major contributors to the absence of true political enfranchisement in

Jamaica is the period of the Old Representative System (1664-1865). In this system, franchise
was the ownership of land. Since the land was primarily owned my member of the
plantocracy, the assembly was dominated by these plantation owners. The total power of
governance resided in the hands of the very top stratum of society. This system was
perpetuated even after suffrage in 1944, as the affluent and influential top strata (members of
the plantocracy) maintained their political power by offering assets to the working class in
exchange for their political support, and hence their enfranchisement. Even today, there is
manipulation of the masses by the politicians through the use of promises of improvements in
socio-economic conditions, and in even more corrupt cases, through bribing citizens to vote
for them. In this way, the system of monopolizing the decision making process has been
passed on to modern day society from the colonial epoch.

Slavery ended in 1833, but there was no true sense of freedom for the ex- slaves.
Many of the ex- slaves struggled to create a livelihood for themselves due to pervasive
colonial oppression. The society was highly stratified with very little opportunity for blacks
to improve their social status. Education on the other hand was only given to the privileged
white, upper middle class whites and coloured. Blacks were given basic skills in education
which could not improve their status in society. Many children attended school irregularly
and for only a few years, as their parents could not afford school fees and lunch money.
Many also lived and worked in squalid conditions which led to the spread of diseases thus
leading to high mortality rates. This helped to perpetuate the status quo in Jamaica, in which
blacks today are at a disadvantage due to their complexion. People of lighter complexions are
more likely to be employed in the service sectors than blacks. As a result of this inequality,
many blacks are unable to participate in the production and redistribution of goods, and are
also alienated from the political system, as colour discrimination is also prevalent in politics.
It was believed that only men of light complexions had the ability to lead the country, as
Percival Noel James Patterson was the first Prime minister of colour to serve Jamaica.

In the first quarter of 1937 the growing unrest among peasants, many of who both
farmed their own or rented plots of land and also worked part time on larger properties, and
landless agricultural workers, found organisational expression in upper Clarendon in central
Jamaica. The principal causes of working class unrest and dissatisfaction were: low wages;
high unemployment and under-employment; arrogant racist attitudes of the colonial
administrators and employers in their relations with black workers; lack of adequate or in
most cases any representation; and, no established structure for the resolution of industrial
disputes by collective bargaining. Another factor increasing general distress and
dissatisfaction regionally was the world economic crisis which had started in the USA in
1929 and by the early 1930s was having a residual effect internationally. These conditions
were the direct result of the neglect of the colonial authorities, who were content with
undermining the wellbeing of the majority, to fuel their wealth. This is an imitation of the
plantation society, in which the slaves were exploited to furl the sugar cane industry, which
thrived because the needs of the workers were ignored; slaves did not have to be paid or
taken care of, so no the labour force did not incur any costs.

Furthermore, the inability of the nation to choose its own means of production
infringes upon its economic enfranchisement. Jamaica was used as a repository of raw
materials, and source of cheap labour, hence there was no need to develop industries that
could utilize the raw materials within the country, since it was more beneficial to extract the
raw materials directly. As a direct result of this exploitative colonial relationship, Jamaica
today lacks the technological advancements to fully utilize its own resources. For example,
multinational corporations handle the extraction of bauxite and most of the revenue the
resource yields is appropriated by the MNCs (multinational corporations) and Jamaica only
receives a small portion of the potential rewards. Thus, Jamaica cannot truly select its
primary means of production, as it is limited to those means which are practicable in the
context of the current technology available in the nation.

After the efforts of socialist reform in Jamaica were crushed by the United States in
their attempt to contain communism, Jamaica had no option but to take loans form the IMF.
As a result, the dollar gradually depreciated over the years, and this allowed the metropole to
extract the resources of the country at very little cost to them. This is mimicry of the means
by which Britain extracted the resources of the country through Chattel Slavery, and Jamaica
still reels from the economic consequences today. This has sabotaged out economic
enfranchisement as it has had a ripple effect, causing a chain of loans to be borrowed from
the IMF, because there was no other alternative. In the structural adjustment policies
implemented by the IMF, the living conditions of Jamaicans continue to decrease over the

Although there are several pieces of evidence to suggest the obstruction of social and
economic enfranchisement in Jamaica, it can be said that these were only impeded to an
extent. Once emancipation was achieved it was only a matter of time before Jamaicans
started to develop the skills and expertise necessary to challenge the status quo; the first of
which was the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865. This resistance that opposed the colonial
hierarchy sought to achieve true political enfranchisement. As a result of the rebellion, there
was substantial social reform for some time, as living conditions improved, and a new system
of government (Crown Colony) which considered the needs of the people to a greater extent
was established in Jamaica.

Jamaicans also migrated to different regions in the years to come to work for better
wages. Some went to work on the Panama Canal, the modern sugar industry in Cuba, Puerto
Rico in textile factories, the oil refineries of Curacao and Aruba and the oil fields of
Venezuela. In this respect, individual economic enfranchisement was realised by a number of
Jamaican workers, as they participated in the production and distribution of goods, which was
largely being denied to them by the oppressive colonial government.

Returning soldiers who had served in the world wars were unwilling to settle for their
low status in society and thus formed their own organizations to speak out against the
injustices of the society. This represents an attempt to achieve political enfranchisement, as
these Jamaicans are actively seeking to partake in the art of decision making. These soldiers
brought with them new ideas of systems of government which lead to more equal societies.

Many Jamaicans were influenced by the philosophical ideas of Marcus Garvey, black
pride and consciousness. By the 1930s people launched riots and strikes in order to bring
about changes. This time also saw the rise of charismatic leaders such as Alexander
Bustamante and Norman Manley. Creation of political parties- JLP & PNP in Jamaica;
assisted in the move towards self-governance and Nationalism, in the interest of political

The Moyne Commission had recommended that all colonies move towards Adult
Suffrage that is, every adult should have franchise. Adult Suffrage came into being in
Jamaica 1944 which stipulated that every man and woman over 21 should be given the right
to vote. This gave them the opportunity to make laws to effect changes in the political system
which was partial towards citizens depending on their class, and their colour. Trade Unions
were also formed to enable better working conditions and treatment of workers one of which
was the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union.

In conclusion, the legacy of colonialism has hindered and sabotaged the political and
economic enfranchisement in Jamaica, but progress towards political and economic
enfranchisement was made in spite of the oppressive colonial forces.