The Establishment of Puerto Rico Farm Labor Program

 Jaime Quiñones, working for the Council of Churches, distributes letters to workers in the Rath Camp, circa 1950s...

In the immediate postwar years, private labor contractors arrived in Puerto Rico recruiting workers for continental U.S. agriculture. Unfortunately, many of their promises about wages and housing weren’t fulfilled leading to investigations and interventions by the government of Puerto Rico. On May 9, 1947, the government of Puerto Rico enacted Public Law 89 requiring contracts and government approval when hiring workers in its jurisdiction and leading to the creation of the Farm Labor Program under the Puerto Rico Department of Labor. The government of Puerto Rico sought to manage the flow of migrant farmworkers by negotiating annual contracts with farmers and their associations, arranging transportation, overseeing their working and living conditions in farms, and facilitating their settling stateside. In Puerto Rico, the government sought to educate migrants about life stateside, and the challenges of migration. In 1948, the Farm Labor Program became part of the newly created Bureau of Employment and Migration, and its Migration Division.

Image 8. Glassboro Labor Camp in New Jersey, circa 1957. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

 

Image 9. Puerto Rican farmworkers’ barracks, circa 1948. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

By the 1950s, as high unemployment in Puerto Rico persisted, officials promoted migration policies as forms of population control and economic development. The Farm Labor Program became a tool to expand migration to other industries and facilitate the settlement of migrants. Migration resolved the government’s inability to provide jobs and a decent standard of living. The Department of Labor designed the Farm Labor Program, aware that the Puerto Rican and northeastern U.S. harvest seasons were complementary. From July through December, unemployment was high among agricultural workers in Puerto Rico, giving them an incentive to migrate seasonally to the harvests in the U.S. Northeast. Many migrant farmworkers used the Farm Labor Program to gain a foothold stateside, but others preferred to migrate without contracts. The Farm Labor Program began a migratory flow whose scope and unprecedented consequences surpassed the capacity of the government of Puerto Rico to manage them.

Image 10. Sleeping quarters for Puerto Rican workers, circa 1948. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Image 11. Teacher Richard Cartright and migrant workers in an English class in a camp, circa 1950s. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Image 12. Jaime Quiñones, working for the Council of Churches, distributes letters to workers in the Rath Camp, circa 1950s. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Image 13. Governor Luis Muñoz Marín playing baseball with migrant workers, circa 1956. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Image 14. Migrants working in the fields, circa 1948. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Image 15. Governor Luis Muñoz Marín with officials inspecting food at a labor camp, circa 1956. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Image 16. Puerto Rican officials with farmworkers in a dining hall of a labor camp, circa 1956. From left to right standing: Puerto Rico Department of Labor Secretary Fernando Sierra Berdecía, Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, Migration Division Director Joseph Monserrat, and PRDL official Eulalio Torres. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Image 17. Government of Puerto Rico’s pamphlet: Migration Division, Puerto Rico Department of Labor. 1958. How to Hire Agricultural Workers from Puerto Rico. Courtesy of the Records of the Migration Division, Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY.

Continue to: Instituting Contract Migration

. . . . . . . . .