Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante was born February 24, 1884 – August 06, 1977. Sir Bustamante was given Jamaica’s most distinguished and highest honor, by the government in 1969. He was given the “Order of National Hero” and became one of Jamaica’s seven National Heroes. He is one of the two “Founding Fathers” of Jamaica’s Independence which occurred on August 6, 1962. Jamaica currently has seven National Heroes.
Sir Alexander Bustamante grew up as an opinionated young man who became very involved in labor relations. He was very personable and a great public speaker. Sir Bustamante traveled to various parts of the world and once held a job in New York City during the late 1920s and early 1930s. His exposure to working conditions outside of Jamaica enabled him to recognized Jamaica’s poor social & economic conditions.
Sir Bustamante returned to Jamaica in the early 1930s and wanted to change the social and economic problems. He realized under the colonial rule, the British Governor, often vetoed the needs of the majority of persons. He often wrote letters to the local & British newspapers with the intention of bringing attention to problems of poor people. The public embraced him as the voice for social and economic equality. He became treasurer of the Jamaica Workers and Tradesmen’s Union in 1937 founded by A.G.S. Coombs a man who describe himself as “a peasant of low birth, very limited education and a very poor man.” He connected with the workers fighting for better conditions. Sir Bustamante identified with the people and wherever there were problems with the workers in Jamaica, he was there. As a result, he became the champion of the people.
He continued his vocal outcry to change the social and economic conditions for the poor. Sir Bustamante believed the Queen of England was not aware of the conditions in Jamaica. He felt that she was misinformed by Sir Edward Brandis Denham, who was the British Governor from 1935 until his death of heart attack in 1938. Sir Bustamante told a crowd, “Long live the King, but Denham must go.” He told a large crowd the government was planning to arrest him. Knowing about his planned arrest, he said, “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 crowed loved him even more as they stood by him. At that moment he told the crowd, “I am more powerful than the Governor.” Then the crowd sang, “We will follow Bustamante till we die.”
The people saw that Sir Alexander Bustamante stood for the people, by the people. He called a strike to demand higher wages along with several other strikes taken place on the island. He continued to write letters to the British Parliament to explain the poor economic conditions. He was arrested along with his assistant William Grant at a rally while protesting for better wages and no bail was granted. Sir Bustamante’s arrest caused more strikes around the island. During his arrest, Norman Manley went to speak to the workers to find out the major concerns; the people replied, “We want Bustamante” or no matter what concession is offered, we will not return to work.” Once the Governor realized Sir Bustamante incarceration meant strikes were spreading around the island in every parish, he could no longer ignore the voices to free Sir Bustamante. Mr. Manley and some additional lawyers were able to arrange his bail then getting all charges dropped.
Sir Bustamante was able to organize the labor movement in a legal way with the Help of Norman Manley and others. Sir Bustamante started the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) in 1938 with the support of the respected barrister Norman Manley. This BITU gave the people assurance that their demands would not fall on deaf ears. Mr. Norman Manley later started the People’s National Party (PNP) with Sir Bustamante’s support. Their union stayed within the Governor’s structured on organizing until Sir Bustamante separated himself from the PNP. He did not like his role in the party and wanted to concentrate fully on union affairs.
During the banana industry strike of 1939, the new Governor Sir Authur Richards declared a state of emergency and warned the military about all law-breakers. Sir Richards warned Mr. Manley that Sir Bustamante would be arrested if the strike was not settled. Sir Bustamante agreed with the compromise negotiated by Mr. Manley and ended the strikes.
Changes did not happen fast enough for Sir Alexander Bustamante so he called a few more strikes before being arrested by Sir Richards on September 8, 1940 at Up Park Camp. He was allegedly charged with violation of the Defense of the Realm Act. He was jailed for seventeen months and release on February 8, 1942. After his release from jail, he felt he was betrayed by the PNP leaders. In 1943, he founded the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and started to prepare for Jamaica’s first election. The JLP won the election and Sir Bustamante was appointed a number of seats including Mayor of Kingston from 1947 – 1948. In 1949 he won the general election and was appointed Chief Minister until 1955 when he lost to his cousin Mr. Manley with the PNP. In 1955, Sir Alexander Bustamante was given the title Knight Bachelor by the Queen.
During Mr. Norman Manley reign as Chief Minister of Jamaica, Sir Alexander Bustamante was overseeing the Federation of the West Indies. The idea of the Federation of the West Indies was to form a political union that would help these islands to gain there independence from Britain. Sir Bustamante became troubled with the Federation and vowed that once he returned to office he would pull Jamaica from the Federation. Chief Minister Manley called for the people to vote on the Federation. The people voted to withdraw.
Sir Alexander Bustamante won the next general election on April 10, 1962 returning the JLP back to power. After Jamaica gained independence on August 6, 1962, the Chief Minister name was changed to Prime Minister. He married Miss Gladys Longbridge a month later. Sir Alexander Bustamante became sick two years into office at the age of 80 years old. The Prime Minister position was turned over to Donald Sangster and Sir Bustamante officially retired in 1967.
Following retirement, Sir Alexander Bustamante was appointed “Order of National Hero.” Sir Alexander Bustamante was the only living person to receive this distinguish award. He received his award on October 18, 1969. Mr. Norman Manley was conferred with his Order of National Hero on the same day. This was exactly one month and sixteen day after Mr. Manley passed on September 02, 1969. In addition, Sir Bustamante has received countless awards from several countries including a life-size statue at South Parade where he held several union rallies. A portrait of his face is on Jamaica’s one dollar. Also, his place of birth in Hanover is a national shrine and his memory lives on for generations to come through the Bustamante candy bar.
Furthermore, several Ports were renamed to Bustamante Port. The renaming of the ports assured Sir Alexander Bustamante’s legacy in achieving significant balance in laborers working conditions; this will never be forgotten. “The Chief” as he was affectionately called was given further recognition when The Children Hospital was renamed the Bustamante Hospital for Children. His 30 foot monument was completed in 1979 in the Heroes Park to honor Sir Alexander Bustamante as one of Jamaica’s National Heroes. This will ensure that his memories will hold its rightful place in Jamaica’s history.
The remainder of Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante golden years was spent as a farmer on his property. He died at the age of 93 on August 6, 1977. He will forever be remembered as a true hero for the betterment of people. His education level was Elementary school but his world experience and exposure was more than he needed to know. He knew what was right and wrong and having the courage and leadership to demand change. His ideology was for better working conditions for poor people and he was willing to die for the caused. His methodology in getting results caused him to spend time in jail. As a result, the people stood by him in acknowledgement of his commitments and sacrifice. When election time came, the people spoke and voted for Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante as the first Chief Minister and the first Prime Minister of the island we love, Jamaica.
Maxie DaCosta Sr.
Robin Treston Sr. contributed reporting.