Portland Solidarity Network: Things Are Heating Up at Fubonn

Here is a brief look at the Portland Solidarity Network and their Don't Shop Fubonn campaign.

Submitted by Eviction Free Zone on March 5, 2014

Rush hour is being colored with the fury of workers scorned. The Portland Solidarity Network and the Portland IWW have now announced the Fridays of Fury at Fubonn, a weekly picket and rally to target the abuses and repressions taking place at the Fubonn Shopping Center. This is the most recent stage in an escalation campaign that has evolved over several months, and has intensified in response the to repression seen from the business’s ownership.

The campaign began in the spring of 2013 when two former workers of the Fubonn Asian Market, Marisol and Norma, contacted the Portland Solidarity Network speak out about the abuses that had become institutionalized in their former workplace. While employed at Fubonn for many years they were regularly forced to work off the clock, denied comprehensive breaks, overlooked for raises that their male counterparts received, and had racist abuses hurled at them and their co-workers. When Norma was in the later stages of her pregnancy she was forced to lift heavy boxes that were unusual for her position, which many assumed was part of a trend in Fubonn forcing pregnant women to quit so they were able to bypass maternity leave. Once she had given birth to her child, the only place she was provided with for breast-pumping breaks was a closet filled with caustic chemicals.

Together, the Portland Solidarity Network and the two women put together a demand of just over four thousand dollars in compensation, as well as for Fubonn to bring their workplace up to current labor standards. A demand delivery took place, and the campaign began with regular picket, flyerings, and the placement of posters in the owner’s neighborhood that indicated the kind of wage-theft and worker abuse that was taking place. Fubonn responded by filing a lawsuit for defamation against the two women and two of PDXSol’s organizers, one of which is also an IWW member.

To settle the lawsuit, their attorney demanded a list of all members, all supporters, all funding sources, and all supporting organizations, as well as a public apology. Because of the loose nature of the network, they found it difficult to actually target PDXSol as an organization itself. If they were to comply with Fubonn’s demands and release the expected information into the public record, it would have given the effect of incorporating the group into a legal entity. This would have allowed Michael Liu, the chief owner of Fubonn, to have the legal ability to broaden the targets of his legal repression.

After looking over these demands, the Portland Solidarity Network decided to arrange a delivery of a counter-offer. A group of around fifty members and supporters entered Fubonn’s attorney’s office with a letter of counter-demands. While the lobby was occupied, their attorney refused to leave his office and accept the letter, and the irate office manager called the police. The demands were spoken aloud through an echoing “Mic Check,” and the letter left for later review. In addition to the financial remuneration for the two women, the lawsuit also needed to be dropped if PDXSol was to stop the campaign.

The pickets were resumed shortly there after, with a large rally in front of Fubonn to publicly indicate that the campaign would continue despite the lawsuit. With the support of organizers and members from AFSCME, UNITE HERE, the painter’s union, and the Portland IWW, several new stages of the campaign were announced. First, they would start regular Friday pickets called the Fridays of Fury at Fubonn, which would target one of their busiest customer rush periods. Secondly, an alternative labor coalition would be created to intensify the Fubonn campaign and to create a permanent working relationship between alternative labor organizations. As Brandon Feld, the Portland Solidarity Network and IWW member who is facing the lawsuit, mentioned, “The coalition is right now focused around the Fubonn case, but eventually we would like to see it turn into a broader alternative labor coalition. Different groups would be able to bring their projects there, and tap into support.”

The final announcement the creation of a website, DontShopFubonn.com, that would target the business directly and act as a hub for the ensuing boycott and escalation campaign.

The Portland Solidarity Network follows a “direct action casework” model that targets worker and tenants issues without having to appeal to representative institutions to see results. Instead, a target is set and winnable goals are identified so that members can collectively see what success would look like. “I think its important because it works,” said Feld, “We’ve seen it over and over again, with different organizations, that these campaigns work. That escalation tactics and direct action applies more pressure to bosses and gets the goods faster than a lawsuit does. Building power around people taking direct action against oppressors is important. When we hand it off to lawyers we are giving away our agency and power.”

In the case of tenant issues this could take the form of stolen security deposits, excessive charges, unjust eviction, property theft, or any level of struggle where by an identifiable target can be made and specific demands can be formulated. This can extend all the way to eviction defense and foreclosure work, depending on the project, though it is conventionally associated with renting rather than home owning. This trajectory can head directly into a tenant union structure, while a home ownership situation would be more of a coordinated organization that functions as a community group. The crux here is that the same factors are at play in both tenant and workers issues. In each of these the subordinate class is up to the will of a superior, whether it is a manager or a landlord/bank.

The goal then is to see that this campaign not only sees material wins for those involved, but also ignites a sense of power in those participating and builds the organization so that larger and more permanent struggles can take place. This boils solidarity down to its most core elements and attempts to solidify these bonds between workers into an organization that has the ability to respond when those in power move towards exploitation. The coalition is now moving forward with several partner organizations, including the Portland IWW.