Labor/Community Strategy Center
Labor/Community Strategy Center leaders December 2019.
- Eric Mann - Director
- Barbara Lott-Holland - Associate Director
- Manuel Criollo - Director of Organizing
- Channing L. Martinez - Facility Manager. Strategy and Soul Movement Center
- Carlos Elmo Gomez - Lead Organizer, Fight for the Soul of the Cities
- Ashley Franklin - Organizer, Fight for the Soul of the Cities
Our work began in the early 1980s keeping the GM Van Nuys auto plant open for 10 years. We then moved in 1990 to Wilmington where we initiated a “clean up the refineries campaign.” For the past 12 years, our work has focused on building and expanding the Bus Riders Union-the largest mass transportation membership organization in the United States. The work is built through a 12 person Planning Committee, 200 grassroots leaders, 3,000 dues paying members, 30,000 on-the-bus supporters, and hundreds of thousands of BRU supporters in L.A. County and California. Through the Center’s organizing work and litigation we have won over the past 12 years: the retirement of 2,000 dilapidated diesel buses, the purchase of 2500 clean fuel CNG buses, and the creation of upwards of 1,000 green jobs through the hiring of bus drivers, mechanics, and maintenance people-$2.7 billion in funds for public transit.
Eric Mann always been an anti-imperialist internationalist, in support of international campaigns such as U.S. Out of Vietnam and Boycott Apartheid South Africa as well as the historic efforts of the world communist movement to form international organizations.
- Based on lessons from these experiences, I believe the conditions for successful international work are based on support for the right of self-determination for oppressed nations and protection of the strength and integrity of constituent organizations. I do not view this as a question to individuals but to organizations. I have always been part of an organization—from CORE to SDS to League of Revolutionary Struggle, to the New Directions Movement of the United Auto Workers, to the Strategy Center. Each organization has had many international relationships.
- But not every invitation is positive or will have a positive outcome. The Strategy Center would respond to any invitation but would not participate in any initiative to form a single international organization (in which currently independent organizations become subordinate as “chapters” to the international) or any initiative based on the subordination of national sovereignty of nations and peoples oppressed by U.S. and European imperialism in the name of an abstract, colorblind, “working class” that considers movements of national liberation a threat.
Eric Mann's Strategy Center has had many successful international relationships—as an NGO at the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, and the UN World Conference on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg, where we worked on the NGO organizing committee and Mann spoke to the UN on behalf of the NGO organizations against a theory of “partnerships” between NGOs and polluting corporations. There the Strategy Center developed relations with the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of South African Trade Unions, (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). The Strategy Center has been invited and sent delegations to Cuba, Chiapas, the SUTAUR-100 (Mexico), France, Germany, Italy, and South Korea. They have allied with trade union organizations and environmental justice/indigenous peoples campaigns. We have participated in the World Social Forums in Venezuela and Brazil.
- The Strategy Center has also allied in many nation-wide coalitions—some based on significant strategic and tactical agreement, such as the First and Second People of Color Environmental Justice Leadership Summits, the Black Radical Congress, and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (each initiated by other organizations) and the current Transit Riders for Public Transportation (which we initiated). We also have sought participation in formations with much broader temporary unities, such as the Boston Social Forum, the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta and, coming in 2010, in Detroit. We have also participated in explicit nation-wide left-building projects within the United States, with grassroots organizations as well as with anti-imperialist and socialist organizations—Freedom Road Socialist Organization, League of Revolutionaries for a New America, and other organizations with whom we had significant disagreements but wanted to pursue a long-term strategic unity. We want to see organizations coalesce but envision coalitions and federations of organizations, not an international or national single organization of individuals gathering in regional chapters.
Eric Mann on the Center
- There are many important experiments today trying to carry out that mission, among them the Black Workers for Justice and the Malcolm X grassroots movements. My own organization, the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, is based on the lessons of my many black and Latino teachers. The Labor/Community Strategy Center is a leftist initiative, which was launched in 1989, around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, to figure out what revolutionary organizing in the age of reaction would look like. Our work focuses on training a new generation of black and Latino activists in the traditions of black revolutionary, Third World, and communist organizing.
- We have won major structural changes over the past twenty-five years, a testament to the value of the black revolutionary traditions. By 1990 we formed the Labor/Community Watchdog to fight environmental racism by mobilizing Latino immigrants to demand reductions in toxic emissions from Texaco and other oil refineries. In 1991 we collaborated with Accion Ecologica in Ecuador to organize an international boycott of Texaco in light of its environmentally devastating “drill and run” policies.
- We also formed the Bus Riders Union in 1992 to protest Los Angeles’s “third-class bus system for Third World people” and, with the help of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, sued the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for establishing a separate and unequal transit system. Through sit-ins, a “no seat, no fare campaign,” and federal court orders, we forced the MTA to buy 2,500 compressed natural gas buses, reduce overcrowding, and lower bus fares for a decade. When the “Fight Transit Racism—Billions for Buses campaign” began, the MTA ridiculed us. But so far we have won $2.7 billion for buses for low-income black and Latino riders. Our strategy was to demand change in funding using rhetoric that unified many marginalized groups against a transit system that favored the rich. Our campaign captured the imagination of black and Latino bus riders and many middle-class white allies.
- Today, in an effort to combat menticide, we are mobilizing young black and Latino organizers in Los Angeles high schools to fight the school-to-prison pipeline and the mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos. As our recently released study, Black, Brown and Over-Policed in L.A. Schools illustrates:
- Seventeen-to-twenty-five-year-old organizers are leading Taking Action clubs where the students share experiences and connect their lives to the study of political consciousness and strategy. With training, they see themselves as organizers building a black and Latino united front against racism and subjugation in the high schools of Los Angeles. The movement convinced the Los Angeles Unified School Board and the Los Angeles School Police Department to stop issuing truancy citations. In just four years, more than 35,000 tardy students were ticketed on their way to school, arrested, handcuffed, and forced to pay $250–$1,000 fines. Our current project is to end school police involvement where teachers, administrators, students, and parents should handle discipline. We are also proposing an Equal Protection Plan that decriminalizes fifteen so-called violations, including “disturbing the peace,” “disorderly conduct,” and “possession of marijuana, alcohol, and markers [used for graffiti].”
- Last year we initiated Fight for the Soul of the Cities, which asks organizers and community members to rally around a political platform that, as Dawson advises, offers a vision of a new society in which minority groups unite. Can we motivate black people to support open borders and amnesty? Or Latinos to support justice for Trayvon Martin?
- I have spent my whole life working for what Dawson describes as a radical, anti-imperialist movement independent of both capitalist parties, with strong black leadership rooted in the 20th century’s great black-led experiments in resistance. Dawson brings the work of many important black leaders and organizations to our attention while the ruling class works to suppress its memory.
- As a critical part of this effort, I urge a new generation of “young, gifted, and black” revolutionaries, together with Latinos, indigenous people, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and whites to use history to inform your organizing work. Read Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto, W.E.B. DuBois’s Black Reconstruction in America, V.I. Lenin’s What is to be Done?, Harry Haywood’s Black Bolshevik, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Richard Wright’s Native Son, Carol Boyce Davies’s Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones, Mao Tse-tung’s On Practice, Paul Robeson’s Here I Stand, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” Brooks and Houck’s, The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X’s Message to the Grassroots, the LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader, Alexis De Veaux’s Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde, Alan Wieder’s Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Edward Galeanos’s The Open Veins of Latin America and—of course— Michael Dawson’s Blacks In and Out of the Left. Read as if your life depended on it; engage in the debate; join an organization; get out into the fields, the factories, the buses, the community, the high schools, and the prisons.
Labor/Community Strategy Center is an urban experiment to root grassroots organizing focusing in Black and Latino communities with deep historical ties to the long history of anti-colonial anti-imperialist pro-communist resistance to the U.S. empire. We teach and study history of the Indigenous rebellions against the initial European genocidal invasions, the Great Slave Haitian Revolution of the 1790s, the Great Slave Rebellions that won the U.S. civil war for the racist north as explained in W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction in America. We appreciate the work of the U.S. Communist Party especially Black communists Harry Haywood, the African Blood Brotherhood and Cyril Briggs, Paul Robeson, Claudia Jones, Du Bois, Benjamin Davis, William L. Patterson, and Lorraine Hansberry.
We applaud the great work of the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, Young Lords, Brown Berets, and the great revolutionary rainbow experiments of the 1970s. We also have roots in the new communist movement of the 1970s and 1980s especially the August 29th Movement, I Wor Kuen, Congress of African People/Revolutionary Communist League (and Amiri Baraka) and their merger into the League of Revolutionary Struggle.
Eric Mann, a member of the ATM and later LRS, was the lead organizer of the U.A.W. Campaign to Keep GM Van Nuys Open, a state-wide organizer for the Jesse Jackson for President Campaign in 1984 and 1988 and an elected leader of the UAW New Directions Movement led by Jerry Tucker.
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- Left Coast Forum August 2018 The Strategy Center’s Free Public Transportation/Stop MTA Attacks on Black Riders Campaign—a strategic struggle and a model for U.S. organizing