By Ross Perlin, writer, linguist and author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy
You know it already – the last few decades have seen an explosion of precarious, temporary, part-time, seasonal and contract-based work arrangements, and above all the rise of internships. We wanted autonomy, flexibility, and creativity in our work, but all too often what came instead was exploitation, inequality, insecurity, a vanishing horizon.
Every year, millions of interns work around the world, unpaid or underpaid, with few workplace protections or benefits, generating billions in profits for their employers. Youth unemployment, the cost of education, student debt, and intergenerational inequality are all at or near record levels. Women and minorities feel a disproportionate impact – and when you have to “pay to play”, the range of voices in society grows narrower. Meanwhile, the traditional milestones of adulthood recede further and further from view as we drift from “opportunity” to “opportunity”, becoming serial interns in a world where entry-level jobs are disappearing, where the basic ethic of a fair wage for a hard day’s work is disappearing.
I began work on Intern Nation over a decade ago in order to shine a light on the massive, previously invisible intern economy and its wider impacts. Since then, current and former interns around the world have started talking and, with great difficulty, rising up: lawsuits in New York, protests in Geneva, legislation in Europe, organizing in Australia. The demand is simple and powerful and popular: the overturning of a system of unpaid internships, abetted by schools and governments, that turns simultaneously on privilege and exploitation. Work should be paid, no matter who is doing it, and the transition from school to work should be an equitable one.
In this spirit, I write in support of the work of the Comités Unitaires sur le Travail Étudiant and the tremendous movement-building I understand is now taking place across Québec. I wish you courage and success as you challenge a broken status quo and take whatever measures are necessary, including an intern strike, to achieve justice.
Cet article a été publié dans le numéro de l'hiver 2019 du CUTE Magazine. Pour te tenir informé.e sur la lutte pour la pleine reconnaissance du travail étudiant, pour en discuter ou pour y contribuer, tu peux nous contacter via la page CUTE Campagne sur le travail étudiant.