Yesterday I, Rosy, took part in what people call a ‘lively’ round table discussion. I was looking forward to the table actually being round like in King Arthur but unfortunately it was a regular oblong shape. The debate was entitled ‘Interns or Slave Labour’ although I like to think that none of the people who basically represented the ‘anti-exploitation/pro-social mobility’ side of things (Susan Nash of Young Labour, Owen Jones of ’Chavs: the demonization of the working class’ also that newsnight with Starkey) would compare unpaid internships to slavery. Because that would be wrong and also highly offensive to the memory of slavery (and indeed to slaves today).
The debate basically split along the following lines:
Rob Killick, CEO of cScape, was pro unpaid internships as a way for businesses to get free labour and interns to get a foot up into the job market. He also suggested that young people have been trained for the wrong businesses and that, more controversially, they are to some extent, spoilt, lazy and unwilling to work hard.
Stephanie Lis works for The Freedom Association, which is kind of like grass roots Thatcherism, basically promoting freedom of choice and small government. Her point was that if people want to intern unpaid, they should be allowed to.
Susan Nash, chair of Young Labour, stood against unpaid internships because they shut those from poorer backgrounds out of certain professions and she wanted to see the enforcement of NMW regulations
Owen Jones was the same, coming down harder against the ways in which internships reduce social mobility and setting this phenomena against the wider context of the change in employment practice in industries like journalism (ie. of the 100 top journos in the country, over half are privately educated- a big change from the 50s, when traineeships etc meant that more journos came from working class backgrounds)
And me, I wanted to add something to the debate by bringing in the anecdotal evidence we receive everyday- and basically confirming that the notion of free choice will only ever extend to those who can afford to take that choice.
Owen and Rob had a few heated exchanges about the class system in the UK and whether or not we should live with it or strive to change it; Rob blamed young people’s poor life chances variously on the economy, their own laziness and the work ethic of eastern european migrant workers and the Chinese; and the rest of us responded as the above synopsis of our views would suggest.
The audience, as always, were the most interesting element of the debate. And this is where y’all should comment- questions like…
What can young people do to create jobs?
Isn’t being young and trying to get a job supposed to be hard?
How can we compete in a global economy?
Were my parents wrong to work hard and pay for my University education, given its in the Arts and in many ways now appears to be ‘useless’?
If there are, let’s say, 10 internships and 5 are paid, 5 unpaid- and then the unpaid ones have to go because of a crackdown in the law, what’s the point of that? Isn’t that restricting opportunities?
Thoughts on postcards please…