The life and times of Hugh Lawson Shearer
Born on May 18, 1923 at Martha Brae, Trelawny, Jamaica close to the sugar and banana areas. He attended St. Simon’s College as a Parish Scholarship winner. He joined the BITU’s staff in April 1941 attached to the union’s weekly paper “Jamaica Worker”. His first promotion came in 1943, when Sir Alexander Bustamante newly released from Detention Camp, took over editorship of the paper and took Hugh Shearer under his wings from then. As Bustamante became more involved with the Jamaica Labour Party, Mr. Shearer went on to further promotion within the union and acquired a Government Trade Union scholarship in 1947-48.
He first moved into the political field when he was elected a Councillor of the KSAC in 1947. He was appointed Island Supervisor of the BITU and elected Vice-President of the union, at around the same time. He was elected to the House of Representatives as a member for Western Kingston 1955-59 and on being defeated was appointed to the Legislative Council. He was a member of the Senate (and its leader) from 1962 to 1967, at the same time filling the role of Jamaica’s chief spokesman on foreign affairs as Deputy Chief of Mission at the United Nations. In 1967 he was elected M.P. for Southern Clarendon and appointed Prime Minister on the death of Sir Donald Sangster in 1967.
As a trade unionist he has had a distinguished career, particularly as a negotiator. His trade union activities have served him in good stead, having brought him through the years into contact with a wide cross-section of the community – workers, civil servants, employers, traders, associations – giving him a wide knowledge of social and economic conditions in fields that matter fundamentally to Jamaican life.
In the political field he was at the same time prominent as a JLP representative and shared political activity with the union programme and after Bustamante, was recognized as the JLP spokesman for the working class sector of the community. Due to Bustamante’s increasing involvement with Government, Mr. Shearer took over complete charge of the BITU, and this made him a force to be reckoned with in JLP councils. He held a seat in the JLP Executive as the leading representative of the BITU and that was a position of strength.
As a Prime Minister (1967-1972) he presided over Jamaica’s most productive years. During this period three new alumina refineries and three large convention hotels were constructed or started. These formed the base of today’s mining and tourism industries, now the country’s two largest foreign exchange earners.
Mr. Shearer is also credited with changing the pace of education in Jamaica with his programme to double secondary school enrollment. Fifty new secondary schools were built as a result.
On the international scene, Mr. Shearer in 1963 initiated the movement in the United Nations for declaring 1968 as “The International Year of Human Rights” celebrated worldwide. Mr. Shearer also piloted the move to have Jamaica selected as headquarters for The Law of the Sea Authority.
He spent over 50 years in service to his country and in pursuit of the great future he envisioned for his homeland and the greater world community. He passed away in 2004.