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The growers of Delano are difficult to cast as villains. Many are self-made men, Yugoslavs and Italians who came to the valley between 1900 and 1940 with nothing and worked hard to amass enough capital to practice the grape-growing arts they learned in Europe. Most of the Delano spreads are family enterprises, and many of them have had rough going. Costs have risen sharply over the past decade, and grape prices have now begun to decline.
The California growers also pay the second highest agricultural wages in the U.S. (after Hawaii, where unionized workers average $3 an hour).
While they generally belittle the extent of his support, however, the growers have gone to some lengths to counter Chavez's moves. The anti-U.F.W.O.C. campaign even included for a time a group called Mothers Against Chavez. The growers are using the J. Walter Thompson agency to place $400,000 worth of ads extolling the benefits of table grapes. The California public relations firm of Whitaker & Baxter has been retained to advise the growers about how to counter the boycott. Whitaker & Baxter helped to manage Richard Nixon's unsuccessful campaign for governor of California in 1962, and masterminded the American Medical Association's attempt to defeat Medicare.
On $10 a Week
One reason for the lack of comprehension between Chavez and the growers is that each has different concepts of the fundamental issue. The growers see themselves as management in a classic labor dispute, while Chavez and his followers believe that the cause of all Mexican Americans is at stake.
That is what inspires Chavez's devotion to la causa. For years he and his wife and eight children have lived jammed into a tiny two-bedroom house in Delano, subsisting on $10 a week from the union and on food from the communal kitchen in nearby union headquarters. Chavez has grown increasingly ascetic. He has given up casual socializing as well as liquor and cigarettes; his idea of a real treat is an eclectic meal of Chinese food, matzohs and diet soda. The fight has become his life. "The days and weeks and months run together," he told TIME Correspondent Robert Anson. "I can't think back to a time when we were not on strike." Nor does he contemplate surrender to the growers. "Either the union will be-destroyed," he says, "or they will sign a contract. There's no