THE NEW ANTI-UNION TRAINING GROUND: UNPAID INTERNSHIPS. Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young, today penned a brilliant op-ed for The New York Times arguing that, rather than focusing solely on the impact of illegal immigrants on wages and jobs, we ought to take a good, hard look at the potential wage and other distortions created by the rise of the unpaid internship as a major factor in American economic life, and to treat internships as the "$124 million yearly contribution to the welfare of corporate America" that they are. Moreover, she writes, unpaid internships inculcate in young people an ethos that is anti-union and anti-workers rights, while also undermining meritocracy:
internships promote overidentification with employers: I make sacrifices to work free, therefore I must love my work. A sociologist at the University of Washington, Gina Neff, who has studied the coping strategies of interns in communications industries, calls the phenomenon "performative passion." Perhaps this emotion helps explain why educated workers in this country are less and less likely to organize, even as full-time jobs with benefits go the way of the Pinto.
Although it's not being offered this year, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s Union Summer internship program, which provides a small stipend, has shaped thousands of college-educated career organizers. And yet interestingly, the percentage of young workers who hold an actual union card is less than 5 percent, compared with an overall national private-sector union rate of 12.5 percent. How are twentysomethings ever going to win back health benefits and pension plans when they learn to be grateful to work for nothing?
Lots to think about -- you can read the whole thing here. Why the existing unions don't focus on issues like this is a mystery to me, but I'd wager that if they did, they'd find a whole new generation of enthusiastic converts among those heavily indebted college students and recent graduates who want to work and to have careers, but who find themselves only offered unpaid posts, or else passed over for their now more-qualified wealthier peers, whose parents subsidized their unpaid posts.