The second son of Jamaica's Premier Norman Washington Manley and Jamaican artist Edna Manley, Michael Manley was a charismatic figure who became the leader of the Jamaican People's National Party a few months before his father's death in 1969.
Manley defeated unpopular incumbent Prime Minister Hugh Shearer (his cousin) in the election of 1972 on the platform of "Better must come", "Giving power to the people" and leading "a government of truth".
Manley instituted a series of Social and Economic reforms that yielded mixed success. Though he was a biracial Jamaican from an elite family, Manley's successful Trade Union background helped him to maintain a close relationship with the country's poor, black majority, and he was a dynamic, popular leader. Unlike his father, who had a reputation for being formal and business like, the younger Manley moved easily among people of all strata and made Parliament accessible to the people by abolishing the requirement for men to wear Jackets and Ties to its sittings. In this regard he started a fashion revolution, often preferring the Kariba Suit which was a type of formal bush or Safari Jacket with trousers and worn without a shirt and tie popularly worn by African Leaders.
Under Manley, Jamaica established a minimum wage for all workers, including domestic workers. In 1974, Manley proposed free Education from Primary School to University. The introduction of Universally free Secondary Education was a major step in removing the institutional barriers to private sector and preferred government jobs that required Secondary Diplomas. The PNP (Peoples National Party) Government in 1974 also formed the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL), which administered adult Education programs with the goal of involving 100,000 adults a year.
Land reform expanded under his administration. Historically, land tenure in Jamaica has been rather inequitable. Project Land Lease (introduced in 1973), attempted an integrated rural development approach, providing tens of thousands of small farmers with land, technical advice, inputs such as Fertilizers and access to credit. An estimated 14 percent of idle land was redistributed through this program, much of which had been abandoned during the post-war urban migration and/or purchased by large Bauxite Companies Alcan Bauxite Co. in Williams Field, Manchester and Alumina Partner Bauxite in Nain St. Elizabeth.
Other reforms introduced by Norman Manley's administration included:
- The lowering of the minimum voting age to 18 years.
- The introduction of equal pay for women.
- The introduction of maternity leave.
- The outlawing of the stigma of illegitimacy.
- The abolition of Masters and Servants Act.
- A Labor Relations and Industrial Disputes Act which provided workers and their trade unions with enhanced rights.
- The establishment of the National Housing Trust, which provided “the means for most employed people to own their own homes,” and greatly stimulated housing construction, with more than 40,000 houses built between 1974 and 1980 by far the most successful of the reforms.
- The introduction of free education at Primary School, Secondary School, and Tertiary Institution levels.
- The introduction of subsidized meals, transportation and uniforms for school children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
- The introduction of special employment program.
- The introduction of programs designed to combat illiteracy.
- Increases in pensions and poor relief.
- The introduction of a worker's participation program.
- The passage of a new Mental Health Law.
- The introduction of the Family Court.
- An increase in youth training.
- A reform of local Government Taxation.
- An upgrading of Hospitals.
- The introduction of free Health care for all Jamaicans.
- The establishment of health clinics and a paramedical system in rural areas.
- The establishment of various clinics to facilitate access to medical drugs.
- A significant increase in spending on education.
- An increase in the number of doctors and dentists in the country.
- An expansion of day care centers.
- The introduction of Project Land Lease, an Agricultural program designed to provide rural laborers and smallholders with more land through tenancy.
- The introduction of a National Youth Service Program for high school graduates to teach in schools, vocational training, and the literacy program
- The introduction of comprehensive rent and price controls.
- The introduction of subsidies on basic food items (1973.
- The introduction of protection for workers against unfair dismissal.
Manley was the Prime Minister when Jamaica experienced a significant escalation of its political culture of violence. Supporters of his opponent Edward Seaga and the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) and Manley's People's National Party (PNP) engaged in a bloody struggle which began before the 1976 election and ended when Seaga was installed as Prime Minister in 1980. While the violent political culture was not invented by Seaga or Manley, and had its roots in conflicts between the parties from as early as the beginning of the two-party system in the 1940s, political violence reached unprecedented levels in the 1970s. Indeed, the two elections accompanied by the greatest violence were those (1976 and 1980) in which Seaga was trying to unseat Manley.
During his period of opposition in the 1980s, Manley, a compelling speaker, traveled extensively, speaking to audiences around the world. He taught a graduate seminar and gave a series of public lectures at Columbia University in New York.
Meanwhile, Seaga's failure to deliver on his promises to the US and foreign investors, as well as complaints of governmental incompetence in the wake Hurricane Gilbert's devastation in 1988, also contributed to his defeat to the popular Manley in the 1989 elections.Manley had softened his socialist rhetoric, explicitly advocating a role for private enterprise. With the fall of the Soviet Union, he also ceased his support for a variety of international causes. In the election of that year he campaigned on a very moderate platform. Seaga's administration had fallen out of favor – both with the electorate and the US Government and the PNP was re-elected.
In 1992, citing health reasons, Manley stepped down as Prime Minister and PNP leader. His former Deputy Prime Minister, Percival Patterson, assumed both offices
Michael Manley was married five times. In 1946 he married Jacqueline Kamellard but the marriage was dissolved in 1951. Manley then married Thelma Verity in 1955; in 1960 this marriage was also dissolved. In 1966 Manley married Barbara Lewars (died in 1968); in 1972 he married Beverley Anderson but the marriage was dissolved in 1990. Beverly Anderson Manley wrote The Manley Memoirs in June 2008.Michael Manley's final marriage was to Glynne Ewart in 1992.
Manley had 5 children from his five marriages: Rachel Manley, Joseph Manley, Sarah Manley, Natasha Manley and David Manley.