Cesar Chavez earned the enmity of the American Farm Bureau, a consortium of wealthy agribusinesses, long ago when he first sought to improve the lot of millions of migrant laborers.
He organized the workers and instituted nationwide boycotts of non-union grapes and lettuce. He was instrumental in passage of the 1975 Farm-Labor Law in California. After losing to Chavez both in the fields and in the legislature, the Farm Bureau turned to manipulation of the media.
The bureau paid free-lance writer Patty Newman $6,000 to research the United Farm Workers and two nonprofit groups that provide social services to the migrants. She peddled her information to a magazine and a television network.
The publicity triggered three federal investigations into charges that the non-profit groups had mishandled federal grants. In the last six months, the government has spent close to $200,000 on the investigations.
One inquiry has been completed, concluding that no government money had been improperly spent on union organizing instead of social services. Chavez is confident the other two will be equally unproductive.
Now Chavez is striking back with a boycott of the nonunion Red Coach-label lettuce and with an $11 million libel suit against two California legislators who allegedly disseminated false information about the union. And the UFW is preparing to sue Newman as well. She told me she'd welcome the chance to defend herself in court.