For the British philatelist and cricketer, seeEric W. Mann
. For the beef farmer and politician, seeEric Mann
Eric Mann (born December 4, 1942, Brooklyn, New York) is a civil rights, anti-war, labor, and environmental organizer whose career spans 50 years. He has worked with the Congress of Racial Equality, Newark Community Union Project, Students for a Democratic Society, the Black Panther Party, the United Automobile Workers (including eight years on auto assembly lines) and the New Directions Movement. He was also instrumental in the labor and community alliance that kept General Motors’ assembly plant in Van Nuys, California open for ten years. Mann has been identified as instrumental in shaping the environmental justice movement in the U.S. He is also founder of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, California and has been its director for 25 years. In addition, Mann is founder and co-chair of the Bus Riders Union, identifying what is now called “transit racism” and resulting in a precedent-setting civil rights lawsuit, Labor Community Strategy Center et al. v. MTA.
In addition, Mann is the author of books published by Beacon Press, Harper & Row and the University of California, which include Taking on General Motors, The Seven Components of Transformative Organizing Theory and Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer and is known for his theory of transformative organizing and leadership of popular movements. Mann is host of the weekly radio show Voices from the Frontlines: Your National Movement-Building Show on KPFK Pacifica Radio 90.7 in Los Angeles.
Eric Mann was born December 4, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York, into a Jewish home rooted in “anti-fascist, working class, pro-union, pro-‘Negro’, internationalist, and socialist traditions.” Both sides of his family were Jews who fled the Russian Empire during the anti-Semitic pogroms of the early 1900s.
His grandmother, Sarah Mandell, a garment worker and member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, was a role model. His father, Howard Mann, was a field organizer for the Textile Workers Union of America and went south to organize black and white sharecroppers. His mother, Libby, was a department store worker, an early feminist, and shaped his ethical worldview. The decisive experience of his early life was antisemitism; within the context of the United States he observed virulent racism and developed a lifelong commitment to the black liberation movement.
Eric Mann is acknowledged as a gifted and innovative organizer who has been organizing for more than 50 years and continues his work today.
He is credited with raising organizing practice to the level of theory, generating well-known formulations to guide other organizers, a long history of involvement in the most militant, radical, revolutionary Black and Latino-led organizations, and his success in winning high profile, big-picture campaigns that have won major structural victories and illustrated his dictum "the left choice is the best choice."
Mann wrote Seven Components of Transformative Organizing Theory and Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer. His theory of transformative organizing is when organizers work to radically transform the system, to transform the consciousness of the people they are organizing, and are transformed in the struggle to change the society.
In 1964 Mann graduated from Cornell University with a BA in Political Science and a minor in Industrial and Labor Relations. Organizers from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee traveled to Cornell to recruit students into the civil rights movement and at 21 Mann went to work for the Congress of Racial Equality.
At CORE, Mann worked as field secretary for the Northeastern regional office on an anti-discrimination campaign against the Trailways Bus Company. Longtime Black and Latino porters had been refused job promotions; the workers were willing to lead the fight but needed CORE's organizational support. The campaign included a regional boycott of Trailways, sit-ins at Trailways terminals, a demonstration at New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal and filing a civil rights complaint. According to The New York Times: “Eric Mann, the field secretary of CORE’s Northeastern regional office, said he and Miss Joyce Ware, another officer, had organized the demonstration ‘to bring attention to our demands that the harassment of Negro and Puerto Rican employees be stopped’.”  After six months Trailways agreed to promote Black and Puerto Rican porters to positions as ticket agents, information clerks, and bus drivers.
In 1965 Mann joined the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP). Mann worked with organizers Bessie and Thurman Smith, Tom Hayden, 100 community members, and 10 students in door-to-door organizing in Newark’s Black South and Central wards where they engaged low-income people in movement-building, challenging slum housing and police brutality. He worked as a public school teacher at the Peshine Avenue School and was fired for demanding that Stokely Carmichael challenge a campus speaker from the Virginia Military Academy, for refusing to enforce what he described as repressive discipline on Black children and for teaching sex education to eighth graders. The World Journal Tribune wrote that Mann put the school system on trial with 500 parents rallying to his defense.
Convinced by the Black Power movement to organize white students to support the civil rights and anti-war movements, Mann moved to Boston in 1968 to become New England Coordinator of SDS. In the spring of 1968, Mann played a leadership role in the Columbia University student strike led by SDS and the Black Student Union, demanding that Columbia shut down its Institute for Defense Analysis, and that it “integrate” the gymnasium, which only gave Blacks and Puerto Ricans limited access and a separate entrance.
As a regional coordinator for SDS, Mann organized and spoke at rallies at Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and other New England colleges. “The Columbia strike more than any other event in our history,” Mann said, “has given the radical student movement the belief that we can change this country.”
Mann was elected to SDS national committee in 1968. He told the Associated Press that he believed in "continuous resistance" against "institutions and policies of corporate capitalism" and that SDS chapters transition from campus protests groups to community groups that would guide students as a "de facto government."
When SDS splintered into three groups in 1969, Mann, then a leader in the SDS faction, the Weathermen (Weather Underground), adopted the Revolutionary Youth Movement’s belief that violent "direct action," a euphemism for terrorism, should be used as a tactic to dismantle the group's perceived power centers of “US imperialism”. Mann and 20 others were arrested in September 1969 for participation in a direct action against the Harvard Center for International Affairs, which the Revolutionary Youth Movement saw as a university-sponsored institution for counter-insurgency.  Mann and 24 other Weathermen were charged with conspiracy to commit murder after two bullets were fired through a window of the police headquarters on November 8, 1969. Mann surrendered to the police on four counts stemming from the November 8 incident: conspiracy to commit murder, assault with intent to commit murder, promotion of anarchy, and threatening. Mann was sentenced to two years in prison of which he spent 18 months in Billerica, Deer Island, and Concord State Prison (with 40 days in solitary confinement). He was released in July 1971.
From 1972 to 1974 Mann was a full-time journalist, writing for Boston After Dark, the Boston Phoenix, and The Boston Globe. He traveled to California to cover the prison movement and political trials; a three-part series in the Boston Phoenix led to his first book published by Harper & Row in 1974, Comrade George: An Investigation into the Life, Political Thought, and Assassination of George Jackson. At the Boston Globe, Mann initiated the column, "Left Field Stands", in which he partnered with Boston University professor Howard Zinn.
In 1975 Mann joined the Chicano-led August 29th Movement (ATM). ATM merged with Chinese-American organization I Wor Kuen (IWK) and the Black Revolutionary Communist League (RCL) to form the multi-racial, multi-national League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS) in 1978.
Mann worked on automobile assembly lines as an active member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and ‘transformative organizer’ from 1978 to 1986, moving from the Ford assembly plant in Milpitas, California, to the General Motors assembly plant in South Gate, Los Angeles, California, to the General Motors plant in Van Nuys, California.
With plants facing imminent closings, Mann, with Mark Masaoka, and UAW Local 645 president Pete Beltran initiated a coalition between labor, the community and the Campaign to Keep GM Van Nuys Open, which Mann chaired for ten years. Five thousand workers (50 percent Latino, 15 percent black, and 15 percent women) built the coalition in Black and Latino communities, where the members lived. Threatened with a boycott, GM kept the plant open for ten years. Reverend Frank Higgins Sr. described the negotiation of the labor/community coalition with GM president F. James McDonald, “For the first time they have seen a coalition form in this nation that would make them come to the table. They didn’t come to bargain; they came to deal with us as though we were children. They wound up leaving knowing they had a tiger by the tail!”
While at GM, Mann was active in the New Directions Movement, a national UAW reform group founded by Jerry Tucker in 1986. New Directions aimed for a more democratic union and opposed the UAW's collaboration with Ford, GM and Chrysler, its support of anti-Japanese protectionism and its support of “labor-management cooperation”. Mann continues to contribute significantly to organizing and redefining the union movement in the United States.
In 1989 Mann, Father Luis Olivares, Reverend Frank Higgins, Rudy Acuña and other Black and Latino leaders initiated the Labor/Community Strategy Center (LCSC) as a “think tank/act tank” that would train organizers and organize labor, environmental justice, mass transportation, and civil rights campaigns.
In the early environmental work of the LCSC, Mann's approach distinguished environmental justice organizing from the approach of the mainstream environmental movement. Mann's 1992 book L.A.’s Lethal Air, documents how class, race, and gender were the unspoken categories of environmental injustice.
That document linked transportation, the environment, and unemployment, advocating for rebuilding the manufacturing sector through “environmentally-sound production of technologies, focusing on solar electricity, non-polluting, prefabricated housing materials, electric car components, and public transportation vehicles, both buses and trains”—and called for “the social justice state not the police state.”  Through the LCSC's efforts, the South Coast Air Quality Management District implemented a “right to know” statute in which community residents were given information about the chemicals they were exposed to and the corporations that were producing them.
In 2001, Mann was a delegate to the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa and returned to South Africa in 2002 as part of a Strategy Center NGO delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
In 1992 Mann and the Strategy Center founded the Bus Riders Union (BRU) with a group of Black and Latino bus riders and started organizing on the buses of Los Angeles. Working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), with Mann as chief negotiator, the BRU crafted a civil rights lawsuit based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds).
The BRU charged the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority with “transit racism”—setting up a separate and unequal transit system in which Latino and Black bus riders were subject to ‘a third class bus system for Third World people’ while wealthy contractors built rail projects for a whiter, more affluent ridership. The BRU's “billions for buses” campaign was initiated in 1992. It was initially accused of hyperbole and excessive aspirations but ended up winning $2.7 billion in improvements for 500,000 bus riders.
Sit-ins, grassroots organizing, a “no seat, no fare campaign,” court orders, and negotiations with the MTA led by Mann, resulted in a ten-year civil rights consent decree committing the Los Angeles MTA to revamp and improve its bus system. The BRU was designated the class representative for LA's 500,000 bus riders (of whom 50 percent were Latino and 25 percent were Black). A BRU team of Eric Mann, Chris Mathis, Norma Henry, and Della Bonner worked in a “joint working group” with MTA representatives that led to replacing 2,000 dilapidated diesel buses, with 2,500 new compressed natural gas buses—the largest clean fuel bus-fleet in the United States.
Mann attended the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. Upon his return to the U.S., the Strategy Center launched a campaign in support of the international demands for “Reparations for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade”; this campaign was a predecessor to the Community Rights Campaign.
The Community Rights Campaign took up the cause of serving the transportation needs of minority students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which it linked with "transit racism". It took up the slogans of "1,000 more buses, 1,000 more schools and 1,000 fewer police", addressing what it saw as the impacts of structural racism on minority students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Led by the Strategy Center's organizer Manuel Criollo, community rights organizers built a student pass campaign that resulted in a major victory in 2005, with the LA MTA to eliminate the application process which had been limiting students’ access to low cost student passes. This laid the groundwork for the current student organizing project, “Stop the Schools as Pre-Prisons.” This popular campaign has produced numerous reports and won significant victories—rolling back truancy tickets and charges of willful defiance, as reported in Black, Brown, and Overpoliced in 2014.
Since 2012 the work of Mann and the Strategy Center has focused on the "Fight for the Soul of the Cities" campaign. It is a political program for international urban organizing built on the Strategy Center's Bus Riders Union and Community Rights Campaign. It opposes privatization, pollution, policing and corporate interests and proposes cities putting the Black and Latino working class as its core.
The Fight for the Soul of the Cities campaign has five core demands—”No Cars in LA—Stop the U.S.’s and L.A.'s War on the Planet”; “Free the U.S. 2.5 million prisoners—Stop the Mass Incarceration of Black and Latino Communities”; “Amnesty and Open Borders for Immigrants—Immigrant Rights are Human Rights”; “Stop U.S. Drone Attacks—Support Sovereignty and Human Rights”; “Fight for the Right to Protest and Organize—Stop the Police and Surveillance State”.
Mann led the founding of the National School for Strategic Organizing that educates and trains a multi-racial class of future leaders. The school has recruited and trained more than 100 young organizers, who are active in social movements. Based on his years of organizing and 20 years of teaching organizers exchanges, Mann's wrote Playbook for Progressives, the book that presents Mann's theory of transformative organizing. From 2002 to the present he has been the host of KPFK Pacifica's “Voices from the Frontlines—your national movement building show.”