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Unpaid internships: an exploitive trick

Increasing numbers of young people are being forced to work for free as school leavers, college leavers and university graduates enter a flat jobs market, writes Rachel Brooks.

Unpaid internships are on the rise, and are increasingly the only option to gain valuable work experience for those who have recently left education and found themselves at the bottom of the career ladder.

Internships can vary from the reasonably unacceptable, to the downright immoral. In one case a recent literature graduate works in two unpaid internships in London. She is unable to claim benefits, and the two companies she works for do not even pay for her travel. For one of her internships she writes reviews for a website, which generates income from advertising. So although the work she produces for them helps them raise revenue, they refuse to pay her.

Internships have always been a career track option for those wanting to work in particularly highly sought-after jobs in difficult sectors, such as national journalism for major newspapers. But now internships are becoming the norm, rather than an exception.

And the government is leading the drive towards this as part of its “big society” vision in an attempt to turn the desperation of the unemployed into free labour. Job Centre Plus now offers a scheme whereby you can work for a company for six months on the dole, in the hope that they will keep you on. But there’s no obligation for them to do so, and they could always hire another of Britain’s 2.4 million unemployed to benefit from another six month’s free work.

Such schemes play on the desperation of Britain’s one million unemployed youth to find work, and while the lucky ones may be able to live at home or get financial help during their internship, others are being forced into abject poverty – graduates in thousands of pounds worth of debt, forced into squatting for the opportunity to work. The alternative is lacking the experience needed to find work in today’s job market.

The main culprits in this unpaid labour drive seem to be media companies, but it can vary from big banks to local government. Even the Green Party, the so-called progressive force in London government, has unpaid interns. One of the worst offenders is the National Trust, taking on very skilled graduates to work on rebuilding projects and land maintenance.

Seemingly bypassing minimum wage legislation, the rise of the unpaid internship is not just exploitative, it provides a real barrier to the most basic social mobility. Work experience and therefore the ability to find work will be there only for those who can afford it – a policy absolutely in line with the decision to charge university students £9,000 per year for almost every course.

But as the occupations of town and city squares all over Spain show, as well as the student protests that took place in Britain last winter, young people can get organised to fight back – and we will!

Join Revolution, the socialist youth group at: socialistrevolution.org

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