Amarillo IN THE ONION fields of the Texas Panhandle this summer, labor organizer Jesus Moya has stirred up more than a controversy over farmworker exploitation. His organizing goes to the very heart of the continuing conflict in Deaf Smith County among Hispanics, public officials, and the many vegetable packing sheds headquartered here. Moya’s confrontations with those in power in this county bring to light the slow but steady reform over the years, but they also demonstrate how much further there is to go. This summer the migrant camps of Deaf Smith County are swollen with perhaps 25 % more laborers than in years past. The 1983 freeze in the Rio Grande Valley has forced the migrants to come here in greatly increased numbers. In the camps, people complain that competition for jobs is tough, that wages have fallen, and that there is not enough work for all. Moya has targeted this area for his organizing work this summer. He stands alongside the fields as they are harvested, urging workers to strike. His voice booms across the countryside, amplified by a loudspeaker atop his van. “When we’re talking about the farmworker movement, we are not just talking about an economic movement of the workers for better wages and better working conditions,” Moya explained in an interview. “We’re talking about fighting the discrimination of the Mexican people in this state, particularly in West Texas. We’re talking about getting better housing for them. We’re talking about getting better education for our children. We’re talking about bilingual education. And we’re talking about entering the political arena to remove certain politicians who are against farmworker benefits,” Moya said. Moya’s talk of so many changes has some Panhandle residents upset. County officials have been battered by a string of court losses this summer, including Terry FitzPatrick is a freelance writer living in Amarillo. major suits over discriminatory hiring practices in county government and the arbitrary jailing of Mexican Americans until they could prove citizenship. Some residents are also upset with the constant attention to the farmworker struggle in their area. One landowner had four CBS television reporters arrested for trespassing while they were investigating possible minimum wage violations and record falsification by Griffin & Brand company crew leaders. Quick negotiating by the district attorney’s office resulted in the charges being dropped. “There’s a lot of these local farmers that are sure getting mad at the boy.” Loy Smith “There’s a lot of these local farmers that are sure getting mad at the boy,” says Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Loy Smith of Deaf Smith County about Jesus Moya. “They feel like maybe he’s pushing them just a little,” Smith says. One farmer is alleged to have pushed back just a little too hard. Onion grower John Seiver was charged with running down Moya with a pickup truck this summer. A grand jury cleared Seiver of the charges without listening to Moya’s or Seiver’s testimony on the incident. Moya suffered minor injuries and has filed a $25,000 civil suit. Seiver feels the law is stacked against the farmer and in favor of “disruptive” organizing tactics used by Moya. “It’s like a bellering bullfrog right there out under your nose. You can’t say nothing, you can’t hear nothing, and you can’t talk back to him,” complains Seiver of Moya’s loudspeaker tactics. “Let him go somewhere else instead of standing out there and driving you crazy with that jabbering and lying and bellering at them [the farmworkers] like a bunch of animals,” Seiver said. Moya was arrested for using his loudspeaker in an open field. Police said it was too loud and interfered with the harvest. Moya was charged with disorderly conduct. A federal court injunction now allows the loudspeaker organizing to continue and defines what in the future can be considered by police as too loud. The disorderly conduct charges will be dropped. “I don’t think people would mind Moya being here if he would go about it in a different way,” says Deputy Smith. “If he would go about it in a peaceful way, like trying to catch all these workers when they’re not working, right after they got off. Maybe if he had a van somewhere where they could come around and drink Cokes or whatever. I don’t think they [the farmers] would mind Moya being here if he’d just change his technique,” said Smith. BUT CLEARLY MORE is going on in Deaf Smith County than a conflict over one man and his loudspeaker. “What we see is a concerted effort on the part of growers and public officials to supress the kinds of things that Jesus Moya wants to talk to workers about,” charges Randall Marshall, an attorney for Texas Rural Legal Aid’s Hereford office. “It appears to be a concerted activity to prevent farmworkers from hearing what their rights are under federal law, what their rights are in terms of seeking better working conditions.” Beyond the tactical battles in the field is a conflict over who is responsible for the working conditions experienced by migrants and who may assume responsibility to change things. “Packing sheds have done everything they could over the years to convince themselves, even, that they have no responsibility for the workers in the field,” says Marshall. “They go out and hire crew leaders who oftentimes really have minimal education themselves, who have toiled themselves in the fields for many years and may have gotten enough money to buy themselves a truck so they could help haul things and foist upon them all the responsibilities of employership, all the responsibilities of record keeping, and then stand back and say: ‘We have no responsibility for what goes on in the field, we merely purchase the product as it comes out of the field.’ “That’s part of the problem,” observes Marshall. “The large packing sheds, who essentially control everything from planting through harvesting and shipping, have been unwilling to Jesus Moya Strikes Again By Terry FitzPatrick 8 AUGUST 31, 1984
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