Blog post

Calling all interns at London Book Fair 2011 to Verso stand N605

Kaitlin Staudt 8 April 2011

Publishing—and the media in general—is notoriously competitive to get into, and therefore employs hundreds and thousands of unpaid interns. But, in an increasingly bleak economic landscape for the book trade, Verso reminds you that the well-trodden path of internships can only lead to a more divided and unequal society.

On the occasion of London Book Fair 2011, Verso urges all publishers to review their intern procedures to take matters of social equality into their own hands at a time when the government is intent on making education and opportunities available to less people, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.

Interns in attendance at the Fair are invited to visit the Verso stand N605 to request one of five free copies of Intern Nation we are giving away exclusively for interns.

As Nick Clegg announces his intentions to clampdown on unpaid internships with a ‘social mobility' strategy, we must ask, is this mere feel-good rhetoric at a time of ideologically-driven and savage cuts? In a joint article for the Telegraph , Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith state:

Our drive to open up internships is intended to prevent the lucky few grabbing all the best chances. This is mobility for the middle, not just the bottom. It is not about social engineering. Quite the opposite - it is about creating a level playing field. We want a society in which success is based on what you know, not who you know or which family you are born into.

In the UK, a record 320,000 students will graduate from university yet  the graduate unemployment rate is reported to be at its highest since 1995 at 20%. Youth unemployment is at a record high at 20.5%; the number of under-25s out of work worldwide is estimated at 81 million. With the constant availability of unregulated, cheap or free labour replacing paid work, the internship phenomenon continuing as it is unchecked will prove an explosive force behind the predicted ‘generational timebomb.'

In a recent article for the Guardian, Shiv Malik discusses the Low Pay Commission's annual report, which criticises HM Revenue & Customs for lax enforcement of minimum wage laws and the payment of interns:

The report reveals a growing gap between the wages of under-21s and the rest of the adult working population. The report's authors admit that this generational wage inequality is being caused in part by employers taking increasing advantage of lower minimum wage rates for those aged under 21. In effect, lower minimum wage levels for the young were dragging general wage levels, an effect which has been exacerbated by the recession and massive youth unemployment. According to the report, the percentage of younger workers being paid below the adult minimum wage rate has almost doubled in the last six years to 30%.

A survey from the campaigning group Interns Anonymous revealed that 50% of internships lasted one to three months and 82% did not lead on to further employment.

Ross Perlin's myth-busting exposé of the brave new world of unpaid work is a witty yet serious investigation. Writer, multi-linguist and former intern at a London NGO, Perlin takes the reader inside the private and public sectors, journalism, boutique charities and megacorporations like Disney. Furthermore, he inspects how many thrifty universities run lucrative study-abroad "destination internship" schemes and exchange student labour for cheap academic credit where little to no learning takes place.

Perlin explains the history behind the phenomenon, unravelling the ambiguity of cultural and professional rhetoric surrounding internships from its beginnings in the 19th century hospital to its next base in the political realm, on Capitol Hill. He pursues the internship's export to Westminster, Europe and the rest of the world - to the explosion "when internships made a perfect fit with the go-go rhetoric of the dotcom bubble and the "New Economy."

Visit the Telegraph to read Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith's article in full.

Visit the Guardian to read Shiv Malik's article in full.

For information on Verso's internship program and policy, please see here.

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