Labor press gives its annual awards in Trump’s shadow
Photo courtesy of ILCA.

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 9 — As workers in the tiny Lafayette Park facing the White House hammered together plywood to build the viewing platforms for Donald Trump’s Jan. 20th inauguration ceremony, members of the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA) gathered in the union hall of the Laborers’ International Union of North America to greet old friends and celebrate each others’ work.

The ILCA’s annual awards luncheon honored the best of the labor media, including journalism and pro-worker advocacy campaigns. People’s World came away with nine awards, including two Saul Miller awards for excellence in labor journalism. Along with videographer and author Fred Glass, communications director for the California Federation of Teachers, members of the 61-year-old organization also discussed the perils and opportunities presented to organized labor by the incoming Trump administration.

The afternoon’s message was a sobering one: labor is in deeper trouble than it has been for many years. One example of this trouble is the attacks that Trump is already launching against unions, such as United Steelworkers Local 1999 in Indianapolis, which represents the workers at the Carrier plant where Trump had falsely claimed to save 1100 jobs from being shipped to Mexico. Earlier in the week, those workers had learned that only 800 jobs were being saved, while 1300 would still be eliminated.  The union communications professionals helped tweet out support for Local 1999’s president Chuck Jones, who publicly called out Trump’s lie and demanded he work to save the jobs of the 300 others he had claimed to be saving. Trump tweeted a series of insults and attacks on Jones Dec. 7 , which were followed by scores of direct threats made against Jones and his family by Trump supporters.

Glass spoke to the group about the history of California’s labor movement and its fightback against the forces of capitalist exploitation and abuse of workers that had been rampant in the state’s founding days. Using documentary video footage with images of strikers lying dead in the streets, Glass pointed toward the ways that unions eventually managed to use the lopsided power imbalance between labor and capital to build their own base of support. When labor uses its communications and journalism in support of organizing, Glass explained, workers can win better job protections and better wages.

Finally, the ILCA awarded its highest honor, the Max Steinbock Award, to retired labor journalist Len Shindel, who published his winning article in the Electrical Worker, the newsmagazine of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). For his article, Shindel traveled to Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison, where he found a union-sponsored mentoring and job training program that helps young nonviolent offenders get into unionized electrician jobs on their re-entry into society. “It’s no cure for mass incarceration,” Shindel said of the program, which pairs older men serving life sentences with younger nonviolent offenders to prepare them to succeed on the outside. “But [the mentors and young mentees] share resources and learn from each other. My story is a celebration of them.”

The People’s World won nine ILCA awards for work produced in 2015, including:

Saul Miller Award for Excellence in Journalism, Second Place: Patrick Foote, “Teachers angry over stalled talks take downtown Chicago”

Saul Miller Award for Excellence in Journalism, Third Place: Michelle Kern, “California teachers fight to save their union and the schools”

Writing, Best series: First Place: Tim Libretti, “Considering the ‘racial conversation’, a three part series”

Electronic Media Best Audio/Podcast, First Place: Patrick Foote, “Talking race and labor with two young leaders”

Best News Story, 3rd place: Blake Skylar, “COP 21: Unions sow the seeds of labor to yield green jobs”

Best Feature Story, 2nd place: Teresa Albano, “Safety tops strike demands for oil workers at BP’s refinery”

Best News Story, 2nd place: Teresa Albano, “Protesters serve notice to McDonalds’ shareholders: $15 and union”

Best Longform Audio, honorable mention: Teresa Albano and Patrick Foote, “U.S. labor leader in Paris talks about eco-crisis challenges facing unions”

Best News Story, honorable mention: C.J. Atkins, “Potato chip boss to workers: ‘Screw you and your f**king union’”


Mariya Strauss
Mariya Strauss

Mariya Strauss is a writer and labor and community activist who lives with her family in Baltimore, Maryland.