Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The Militant, 24 August 1946

Paul Kelly

Puerto Ricans Treated Like
Slaves in Pennsylvania Camp

(19 August 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 34, 24 August 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


CHALFONT, Pa., Aug. 19 – Hundreds of Puerto Rican laborers, lured into this country by crooked labor contractors, are existing in conditions of indescribable misery and exploitation on farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Yesterday I saw with my own eyes the frightful conditions of some of these workers brought into this country as a source,of cheap labor. I visited the camp of nearly a hundred of these workers here at Chalfont.

These workers were brought to this country under vague promises of getting wages of $50 and $60 a week. They were fooled into signing “contracts” which they couldn’t even read, by the Harry S. Friedman International Trading Commission Company at San Juan.

Pay Own Passage

After paying $85 of their own money for a $50 passage from Puerto Rico, they find themselves at the mercy of the labor contractors, who hire them out to local farmers for wages of as little as $3 a week after “deductions.”

The workers are housed at the George Washington Boys Camp, owned by the Patriotic Order of Sons of America at Chalfont. It is rented to the labor contractor who farms out the workers on an hourly basis. Nominally the worker is supposed to get 50 cents an hour. He has no assurance of even a day’s work. $1.40 a day is deducted by the contractor for room and board and $3.50 per week for a return ticket to Puerto Rico.

One worker I spoke to told me he earned $30 a week in his own country driving a truck. For 57 hours work in the tomato fields here he received $9.50 in cash and $5.70 sent to his family. Others end the week with only $3 or $4 for themselves – and families.

Seven to nine workers are forced to live in one room, ten by ten feet. Only cold water is available. All say the food is inadequate for men expected to do hard labor in the fields. Two U.S. Army veterans, Alcides Perez and Jose Vargas Roe, who protested their treatment to government agencies, have faced threats of being thrown out of the camp.

Not only are the workers deceived into serving as slave labor, but local farmers too are being tricked. One farmer, Frank Welch of Hilltown, states that he had to pay $5 fare from New York for each of the Puerto Ricans, plus $8 for their board at the camp. Thus Friedman appears to be collecting from two sources.

Efforts to help the Puerto Ricans have just begun. Rev. J. Westburgh of Newville has been extremely active in their defense, and much of the information in this report was obtained through him, although he explained that he does not agree with the program of The Militant. He discovered the plight of the Puerto Rican workers when he went among them distributing Spanish translations of the Bible.


Rev. Westburgh contacted the American Legion, which sent a representative to inspect the camp – but what the Legion decided to do is not yet known. The only other aid the Puerto Ricans have received so far has been from Local 80 of the CIO Farm, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers.

The investigations of the Legion, the Board of Health and others have caused Friedman and his foremen some worry, and a slight improvement in conditions has been noted by the men. They got more to eat, and Friedman himself has been out to the camp to see what was going on. Whether this is a temporary improvement will depend on what further publicity the camp receives, and on what actions the farm workers themselves undertake.

Top of page

Main Militant Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 26 June 2021