In 1934, Alexander Bustamante opened a moneylending office in Kingston, Jamaica. He wrote anti-government letters to the press, sympathizing with the underprivileged. In 1937 he became treasurer of the Jamaica Workers' and Tradesmen's Union.
By May 1938 Bustamante was undisputed labour leader. He was arrested on 24 May on a sedition charge (see picture above), which was later withdrawn. He was a key figure in the development between 1938 and 1943 of two rival trade union blocs and two political parties supported by trade union wings. He registered the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union in 1939, installing himself as life president-general. After a waterfront address he was interned on 8 September 1940, but released on 8 February 1942. The hierarchy of the People's National Party of Norman Manley looked after the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, but on release Bustamante repudiated them. He left the People's National Party to form the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in 1943. To avoid disqualification from nomination as a candidate under a name not legally his own, he became William Alexander Bustamante by deed poll. His party won the 1944 elections, and he became leader of government business and minister of communications from 1945 to 1953.
In 1947 Bustamante was elected mayor of Kingston. The JLP won the 1949 elections with a reduced majority. In 1951 its constitution stated the goals as self-government, British Caribbean federation, and dominion status within the Commonwealth. Bustamante, however, never supported federation strongly. He became chief minister and minister of local government in 1953, but after his party's defeat in 1955, led the opposition. He was knighted in 1955. He became president of the West Indies Democratic Labour Party from 1958 to 1960, but resigned to campaign for Jamaica's withdrawal from the federation. His opposition led to the 1961 referendum which decided on secession. The JLP won the 1962 elections. With independence in 1962 he became the first prime minister, keeping responsibility for external affairs and defence. He was sworn of the privy council in 1964. He retired in 1967, at the age of eighty-three.
Image courtesy of Bustamante Industrial Trade Union
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