ENTERPRISE, Ala. - In this rural town with the can-do name, the ugliness began with a showdown. In late 1995, 39 chicken farmers decided to say no to ConAgra, the nation's fifth largest poultry processor.
The farmers said the company's new contract was unfair and a ticket to the poorhouse. Local bankers agreed. Emboldened by unity and the security of their farms - which they could sell if the going got rough - the farmers refused to sign.
They might as well have challenged a tank squadron with pitchforks.
In the year that followed, ConAgra defied or intimidated nearly every institution that usually calls the shots in small-town America. The bankers surrendered. The local...