Alexander Bustamante
Alexander Bustamante

Champion of the Working Class

Bustamante returned to Jamaica from his world travels in 1934. He established a money-lending institution, but by 1935 his focus was on unemployment and the terrible pay and working conditions facing Jamaica's poor and working class. Thus, he became known as the 'champion of the working class', a man who was not afraid to speak out against English colonial rule.

In 1935, he started writing letters to the Daily Gleaner - Jamaica's sole daily newspaper at the time. In the letters, he defended the rights of the unemployed to carry out planned demonstrations and also the right of self-expression. He condemned the use of force by the colonial administration to quell disturbances.

By 1936, Bustamante had gained some 'fame' as a letter-writer to the Gleaner and weekly newspapers, and soon he was traveling all across the country, holding small meetings, fraternizing, and making himself more widely known. By 1937, there was much unrest and labour discontent across the country, and Bustamante appeared on platforms in Kingston, making fiery speeches in defence of Jamaica's workers.

1938 was a watershed year for Jamaica, as it was the year that the labouring classes rose up in revolt and protest against the poverty and moral degradation that they faced. Bustamante emerged as a key figure in this time, a champion of the working class, as he led strikes and other protests islandwide. At one rally in Downtown Kingston, where the army threatened to open fire on the crowd, Bustamante reportedly unbuttoned his shirt, thrust his chest forward and invited the soldiers to shoot him instead of the people. Later that day, he was arrested and jailed for several days before his cousin Norman Manley (a lawyer) assisted in getting him bailed. Later, the charges were dropped.

Bustamante saw the need to organize the labour movement in a legal way, and thus formed the Bustamante Industrial Trades Union in May 1938. In 1939, continued his efforts, and in September 1940 when he called a strike on the waterfront, Bustamante ended up being arrested (on September 8, 1940) for an alleged violation of the Defence of the Realm Act. He remained in detention until February 8, 1942.

DID YOU KNOW ... that Sir Alexander Bustamante was the only Jamaican to be declared a national hero while still alive. In 1970 he was declared one of Jamaica's national heroes. He was 93 years old when he died on August 6, 1977.