A few years ago you’d hear people mutter that our generation would spend years working to pay off the debts of the Celtic Tiger, little did we realise that some of the pay masters expect this to be unpaid.
Things are bleak in the UK too, since the coalition government came to power a youth unemployment rate of 20.5% has seen many shoved to the side lines. Protest movements and riots are rife as a result. As they should be.
The UK state has been making people work for their dole since the 1990s ‘New Deal’. Multiple campaigns, blogs and groups have worked to develop an interesting arsenal of concepts and actions to understand this cruel imposition of austerity. Central to most of this activity is a sharing of knowledge on the situation people are facing on the ground. On www.internsanonymous.co.uk workplace moles tear away the glamorous image that masks the reality of many positions, by naming and shaming bad employers.
On a deeper level groups like Carrot Workers look at the effects that internships, job placements and compulsory free work have on the standard of living. The consequences are both personal and political. They’ve organised “alternative job fairs” where interns can get the suss on employment rights from union reps, learn to fake references or hold public tribunals into the unethical activities of employers. Central to much of the work of UK activists is getting people to think of the bigger picture beyond their own isolated, negative experiences.
Recently in a landmark court case, a journalism student won back pay for work performed on an internship where there was no real training involved. Now the UK National Union of Journalists are looking for interns to come forward to sue for the National Minimum Wage.
One phrase worth applying here is “don’t be an intern, be a collective intern.” Ireland is fast finding itself a laboratory for a situation where graduates and youth are made exempt from the minimum wage. Rather than resting in our cynicism maybe we should look at moving from apathy to anger and take some clues from the UK about what we need to do here.