How Youth Activism is Kicking Unpaid Internships to the Curb

Greig de Peuter, Kate Oakley and Nicole Cohen. 2018. “How Youth Activism is Kicking Unpaid Internships to the Curb.” The Conversation, June 5.

It’s job search season for students and fresh graduates, which means a bump in media interest in internships. Barely a decade ago, we’d expect news articles to include tips for landing a “dream internship” or to quote an employer boasting that unpaid interns are economically efficient for firms. Now, the media coverage generally takes a different tone. It used to be typical for mainstream media articles to endorse unpaid internships, positioning them as essential for standing out in a hyper-competitive labour market. But today, articles about internships emphasize class-based exclusion in the intern economy, challenge assumptions about meritocracy, and expose employers who break minimum wage regulations.

What’s behind the pivot in public opinion that has seen internships shift from a benign rite of passage to a lightning rod workers’ rights issue? Activism. Since 2010, an intern rights movement has been remarkably successful at winning victories for interns, drawing attention to just one vital issue of workers’ rights. This article surveys how young workers, interns past and present and their allies are confronting unpaid internships and the cultural conditions that condone them via protests, online campaigns and government lobbying. We map out the groups working to transform the politics of internships, noting how they have been able to shift mainstream media coverage of unpaid internships.

Read article on The Conversation.