WASHINGTON – Journalists who cover the labor movement, labor leaders and even a U.S. Department of Labor top official attended the International Labor Communication Association’s annual awards ceremony here Nov. 19.

The People’s World took Second Prize in the feature story category for John Wojcik’s article Steeler Nation Fights its Way Back.

According to the judges, “Wojcik spoke with out-of-town fans who had made the trek from California to Pittsburgh for the game; it turns out, like many Steelers fans across the country, the family’s patriarch had worked at the Homestead Mill until it was shuttered in 1989. Wojcik captures the pride these former steel workers felt in the work they did, the devastation of the mass layoffs, and their struggles since, working fast-food jobs for minimum wage. Wojcik’s essay makes an eloquent argument for an industrial policy in America.”

“I wondered why there were all these Steeler fan clubs across the country, more than most teams,”  Wojcik said. “When I was in Pittsburgh, I asked the question of these guys at the bar. It turned out that, because of the shutting of the mills, people scattered and there’s this diaspora of people from that area who still love their hometown team.”

During the awards ceremony, Wojcik told this reporter, “It really is an honor to be here with all these great writers, video makers, especially the other recipients. A lot of their work is incredible.”

While to many the term “labor media” still brings to mind stodgy old union newsletters, the ILCA gathering demonstrated a greater vitality than most would imagine. Dozens of awards were given, for everything from publications of union locals – which seem to be taking on a new vitality – to worker-oriented radio, video and even internet-based spots.

A morning workshop dealt specifically with how the labor movement could get its message out via the new media, specifically social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The communications director for the American Federation of Teachers, which hosted the conference, detailed how her union was able to counter the anti-teacher message of Waiting for Superman, the pro-charter school film.

Though Superman had a much higher marketing budget than An Inconvenient Truth, which was made by the same people and employed a similar public relations strategy, it “bombed,” as AFT representative described it, at the box office. This was due to the online work of AFT, notably more through Facebook than the AFT’s own site.

The labor press has become all the more important because the traditional, mainstream media has cut way back on its coverage of workers’ struggles, said Carl Fillichio, the DOL official who addressed the gathering.

“I think that the New York Times is the last newspaper to have a full-time labor reporter,” Fillichio said.

According to outgoing ILCA president Steve Stallone, the association is looking forward to its next national convention, to be held either in Chicago, San Francisco or Seattle.