On November 10th, nearly twenty thousand students in social work, education, arts education, nursing, fashion merchandising, special education answered the CUTE’s call and went on strike during their courses and internships in light of Global Interns’ Day. Many actions were carried out: demonstrations, banner drops, popular education workshops, city-wide visibility…

Paid internships are good for everyone!

In doing so, the students of Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Rimouski, Montreal and Moncton in New-Brunswick joined their voices with interns from Bruxelles, Madrid, Paris, Belgrade, Geneva and numerous cities in Morocco. On the same day, nearly seventy signee organizations in Mexico, the United-States and Canada announced their new slogan “Enough! Stop the exploitation of interns!” to show their support towards the campaign for paid internships for all[1]. It didn’t take long until even the minister responsible for Higher Education, Hélène David, to take back what she had said last spring: after being categorically opposed to paid internships as of last may[2], only three days passed after the November 10 strike before she announced she would “study the issue”[3]. To which students from Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Montreal and Gatineau dutifully reminded her – as well as every other political party that had considered compensating a single internship in education: if one day of striking is enough to make the minister change her mind, we will not hesitate to do so again[4].

Interns in education are not the only ones with a number of unpaid internships. Many other programs are just the same, in universities and colleges alike. For example, at the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal, interns training for a degree in social work must accomplish 800 hours of internships :

We are cheap labour! They exhaust us and make us vulnerable to burn-outs before we even leave the classroom. The austerity measures affecting services in care sectors have a direct impact on workers, but also on interns[[5^.

In nursing, at the Collège de Maisonneuve, all six internships add up to 1035 hours of volunteer work:

I am asked to be responsible for the care I give, I am told that I am responsible for my patients, legally responsible, just the same as a nurse. I am told that I must do this because I feel a calling, that I must be a volunteer, because I am not a nurse, I am a student…[[6^

At the same time, many obligatory internships in college and university programs traditionally dominated by men are paid, and many of them are even paid more than 15$ an hour. No one should be left behind!

To get there, we must organize!

The struggle carries on for interns. During the last semester, regional coalitions comprised of student associations, political groups, regional and union committees favorable to paid internships for all met in Sherbrooke and Montreal. Activities in other regions have been announced for the winter semester of 2018. The coalitions will most notably be working to spread the word about paid internships on Tuesday, February 20th, during the Global Intern Strike, a worldwide call to mobilization for interns. Contact your regional coalition or local CUTE for more info!

For the CUTE[5], paid internships for all represent the first victory for the recognition and remuneration of all student work. Indeed, internships are the most visible part of student work, but there is still a long way to go until all students are paid and given decent studying conditions.

What kind of working conditions for the “jobs of the future”?

On June 8th and 9th of this year, the cities of Quebec and La Malbaie will host an important meeting between the leaders of the world’s seven most powerful economies. Heads of state from the United States, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Canada will reunite to discuss their preoccupations with regards to the economy and “public security”. Among the five announced themes, one of them directly touches on the CUTE’s demands: “Preparing ourselves for the future of work”[6], jobs which nobody will want. We stand before a labour market that has become more flexible, precarious, globalized and where the proportion of unpaid work continues to rise. And these G7 countries are the ones responsible: they actively structured the liberalization of markets during the 1990s, which consequently put local workers in direct competition with those from Mexico and Asia. This competition allowed big businesses to accumulate record profits by relocating parts of their production or by dealing with subcontractors operating in countries where labour and environmental standards are less rigorous and where salaries are lower.

When jobs are rare, people go back to school more often, in hopes of improving their living conditions. For example, the 2007 crisis led to a 10% increase in enrollment between Autumn 2006 and Autumn 2009 at the Université de Montréal. And for the government, unpaid internships have become a way to reduce a part of their expenses in education by obtaining cheap replacement labour for its’ public institutions. On top of that, by adding internships in the established curriculum, which is the case for co-operative programs (alternate periods of academic study and work), it is now possible to structure endemic unemployment. The unemployed are therefore split into subcategories: unpaid interns, job hunters, last resort social welfare beneficiaries, hiding those who are unemployed in prolonged training programs and trivializing atypical forms of work.

The impacts of this worldwide competition among workers has generated much greater consequences for countries of the global South: wars, the looting of natural resources, extractivism, slavery and the rise to power of authoritarian regimes. In this way, women and men, hoping to obtain safety and sufficient funds to live, migrate towards the global North, and more and more of them do this through State-sponsored temporary work programs: housework, agricultural work, fast-food work in the distant regions outside the greater urban centers. Their numbers multiply as they take on precarious work, and they live the daily experiences of racism and discrimination as they look for work, housing, daycare centers, etc. In fact, many of them end up accepting work for which they are overqualified based on the training they received in their country of origin, or return to school, waiting for their qualifications to be recognized or in hopes of acquiring new skills through training programs. This is especially prevalent among women training for trades or professions that impose unpaid internships, such as healthcare or early childhood education[7].

On towards the G7!

The explosion of unpaid work is the consequence, less visible but just as direct, of policies designed to stimulate economic competition. Even if these governments have established free-trade agreements facilitating international direct foreign investments, they now use the rhetoric of economic competition on a global scale in order to justify major measures to help businesses. In Quebec, this appears in the form of policies designed to “keep jobs here”: skilled workers for cheap, public subsidies, unpaid internships and training adapted to specific jobs. And it is not only countries, but also provinces, cities, schools and boroughs that bend the knee, offering more and more for employers.

In this way, in the context of tight budgets within public institutions, such as healthcare or education, as well as that of decreasing production costs in the private sector, many people are forced to accept unpaid or underpaid jobs in order to accumulate the experience required to get a job or a promotion. But these offers of employment, just like the internships, rarely lead to well-paid jobs. Instead, they are a form of atypical work which is becoming more and more widespread.

The resistance against the G7 Summit is an opportunity to seize for protesting against the rise of inequalities, at home and abroad, and to be heard all over the world. The discussions which will be held at the summit will involve political elites and produce lasting consequences. Whether we are student interns or salaried employees, we try to convince ourselves that each contract is an “opportunity” to invest in ourselves, to the benefit of our teachers, employers and the administrations we work for. The struggles carried out by the student movement or by women’s groups, unions and grassroots organizations would benefit from attacking the structures which reproduce discrimination and social exclusion, which deliver cheap and easily exploitable labour into the hands of employers… that is why it is seems necessary to us that we should step back and take into account the role that we have as individuals in the worldwide economy. Let us use this stepping stone to build new solidarities and raise awareness about the upcoming stages of our struggle! We must take advantage of the G7 to call for a worldwide interns strike.

This article was published in the Winter 2018 issue of the english edition of CUTE Magazine.
To learn more about the struggle for the full recognition of student work, to discuss or contribute to it, we can contact us via the CUTE Campagne sur le travail étudiant page or the SWUC – Student Work Unitary Committee page.

  1. Since then, other organizations have signed the declaration. It isn’t too late to invite your group, union or student association to join the mouvement: http://www.globalinternsday.org/the-declaration/ You can also read it on the last page of this edition of CUTE magazine. ↩︎

  2. Cloutier, Patricia. (4 mai 2017). « David ferme la porte aux stages rémunérés », Le Soleil. ↩︎

  3. Bellerose, Patrick. (14 novembre 2017). « Futurs enseignants: Québec étudie la possibilité de stages rémunérés », Journal de Québec. ↩︎

  4. Texte collectif. (16 novembre 2017). « L’effet d’un jour de grève des stagiaires », *HuffPost Québec. * ↩︎

  5. The United Commitees for Student Work, whose magazine you are currently reading. ↩︎

  6. Gouvernement du Canada (14 décembre 2017). En route vers le Sommet du G7 de 2018 dans Charlevoix, ↩︎

  7. Belley, Bourdon et Simard. (Automne 2017). « L’école qui te remet à ta place », CUTE Magazine. ↩︎