Interns, Unite! You have nothing to lose (literally)

Greig de Peuter, Nicole Cohen, and Enda Brophy (2012) “Interns, Unite! You have Nothing to Lose (Literally)”, Briarpatch, November/December, 8-12.

“Fuck your unpaid internship.”

This was one of the more colourful slogans scrawled on a sign at the peak of the Occupy movement. Held up by young people who stand to lose large from financial-crisis fallout, placards like these are refreshingly frank refusals of the mantra that we must be willing to do “more for less” nowadays. A 21st-century update on Bartleby’s famous reply to the duties assigned by his boss – “I’d prefer not to” – the intern invective expresses the frustration bubbling among youth facing mounting student debt and diminishing prospects for employment.

If decent, full-time work is getting harder to come by, the same can’t be said for internships, whether unpaid or barely paid. Internships received a slew of media attention after Ross Perlin published his exposé, Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. Less attention has been paid to the swell of activism confronting exploitative internships and the cultural conditions that condone them. From street protests to online campaigns, the emerging intern activism is one part of the wider effort by fresh actors to reformat labour politics for precarious times.

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