The growth of global economy is dependent upon millions of students, whose professional education requires them to fulfill hundreds of hours of unpaid labor in order to obtain a diploma. That labor is just as demanding as the work accomplished by any professional. As a matter of fact, finding an internship often means just as much competition as finding an actual job, not to mention the fact that employers often look for interns that are just as qualified as actual employees.
The number of interns is on the rise, regardless of fields, perhaps because of millions of dollars’ worth of budget cuts, alongside the withdrawal of public funding which limit employers’ ability to hire paid workers. Even so, being a paid employee does not necessarily mean decent working conditions. Employers therefore end up filling atypical work positions (part-time or contractual work, for instance) or hiring unpaid interns. We are at an impasse, where our failing system hinges on corporate practices that are, at best, unstable. To top it off, the workers and interns who fill up these precarious positions are generally left without the legal advantages and protections which actual employment might offer them through provisions such as the Act Respecting Labour Standards. Since unpaid interns do not receive the social recognition that a salary entails, they are left in a sort of proletarian limbo, where morality is gray enough to justify brutally and shamelessly exploit them, as today’s society deems it a “necessary part of professional development”.
Many higher education programs contain mandatory internships. Contrary to popular belief, the student-intern is not a whiny, lazy millennial. These unpaid workers are oftentimes immigrants, whose diplomas are not recognized, parents with young children, adults who have opted to return to school, people living with various physical or psychological conditions, etc. They can often only afford to complete their studies at a great personal cost.
The common denominator of programs that offer unpaid internships (mandatory or not) is, without a doubt, the fact that they are undertaken by a largely feminine population. Consider the care fields (education, nursing, social work, etc.) or the culture fields. In these fields, vocational work and career opportunities are on par with exploitation. The reality of it all appears aberrant, especially considering that in the United States and Canada, internships in traditionally masculine fields are often well paid, which emphasizes prioritization of programs and prevents equal treatment for all students.
On this International Interns’ Day, we take action, as thousands of other interns are mobilizing throughout regions of Mexico, the United States of America, and Canada. We move to blow the whistle on abuse and exploitation and we call for all interns and any workers, worldwide, to join us in the fight for decent working wages and conditions.
There is strength in numbers. Our voices and actions become those of a collective will rather than isolated “incidents” for the media to disregard. For the ceaseless extortion of interns of all fields to end, we believe it is time to launch a common offensive and organize an internship strike. A collective interruption of internships is a great political tool and the best way to obtain leverage on the people and powers that stand to gain from our unpaid labor, in order to obtain the salary that is rightfully ours. Said strike would also grant us the resources to mobilize without risking exhaustion ; moreover it would allow us to organize our collective movement and show the world that we intend to defend our project : a world rid of exploitation.