Campaign groups gather to fight unpaid internships

Young people fighting for paid internships at Goldsmiths College Student Union yesterday. Pic: Kamal Badhey

Young people fighting for paid internships. Pic: Kamal Badhey

Young people fighting against unpaid internships gathered at Goldsmiths Students’ Union yesterday for a daylong workshop of talks, activities, and film screenings.

Organised by Future Interns, a loose collective of young activists across London, the event was part of a series of workshops taking place at universities throughout the city.

The event was hosted in conjunction with Ragpickers, a group fighting exploitation in the arts industry, and the Precarious Workers Brigade, a organization campaigning for workers in culture and education.

Fairooz Aniqa, a Future Interns representative, began her campaign against unpaid internships as a fashion journalism student at the University of the Arts London. Zaniqa said collective action is the best way to fight unpaid internships.

“What we want to see is students taking on the issue, and doing something about it themselves, and creating a strong network of unpaid interns,” said Zaniqa. “What we want to see is collectivism and people coming together and supporting each other.”

Zaniqa said the purpose of the event was to make young people realize the implications of taking on unpaid internships.

“The nature of [unpaid internships] is that it excludes those who can’t take them on,” said Zaniqa. “And those who can take them on actually end up being exploited because they’re the ones who go out and make tea and coffee, and they don’t get anything out of it. It doesn’t benefit anyone, and that’s the point we’re trying to send out today.”

The Ragpickers put together a mapping workshop in the afternoon, in which participants pinpointed on a map different businesses and institutions in the city that don’t pay their interns. The event progressed with speeches from unpaid interns, and several short documentary screenings.

The evening culminated in a discussion with Federico Campagna, activist and author of ‘The Last Night: Anti-work, Atheism, Adventure, and Mark Fisher, Goldsmiths College lecturer and author of ‘Capitalist Realism: Is there No Alternative?’

Campagna said unpaid interns can make a difference in particular once they’ve found a proper job.

“There’s a number of things [former interns] can do.  First of all, it’s to stop the mystique of work, to stop saying that work is a mystical thing that takes a long time to learn. The reality is that 99.99% of jobs can be done by a monkey trained for three weeks,” said Campagna.

“Also, to stop this secret about the shame of money, to simply say and state that one works for the money, not for the pleasure of it,” Campagna continued. “One meets his friends for the pleasure of it, one writes a book for the pleasure of it, a number of things, but definitely not work.”

Fisher advocated collective action through the established institutions that make unpaid internships possible.

Criticising some demonstrations as ineffectual, he said: “You have to produce structures or engage in structures. Be in a union, and be active in that union. Be in a political party.”

“If you want the NHS not to be privatized, if you want better conditions for the disabled and the unemployed, you need to have influence on the state, and you need to have influence on parliamentary politics”.

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