Wages go negative: graduate pays for internship

The news that graduates are now paying to work for free just adds to the feeling that something has to give.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 7, 2011

When Roz Tuplin graduated in 2010 she thought that a post-graduate degree in English Literature would be good grounding for a job in the media. She knew she would have to gain work experience, but after a year of trying to get a placement, she has decided to pay employers £65 a day to let her through the door.

"It seems to be the way things are going," she said.

From the BBC.

This is what my old uni careers advice had to say about internships: "if you can get a foot in the door this way, work as hard as you can, make yourself indispensible and you might – might– get paid work later on." And now people are being asked to pay for the privilege? And of course, this advice is being given to everyone, and if everyone does it, it completely negates the point: there aren't enough jobs to go round.

So the way the labour market's shaping up under austerity: either be forced to work for Tesco for your dole money, or if you've got the savings and 'ambition', pay the bosses to give you experience in the hope of maybe, just maybe getting a job down the line (the increasingly imaginary carrot to workfare's stick). And with austerity planned to last until 2017 at least, with public sector job cuts revised up from 410,000 to 700,000 and a sub-inflation pay cap (i.e. pay cut) of 1% imposed for two years for those who remain, unemployment's only going to rise.

Paul Mason's thesis on "a new sociological type: the graduate with no future" looks very pertinent almost a year on. But it isn't just graduates kicking off. The student riots were followed by the August riots which have been followed by the largest strikes in a generation.

It seems to me that several things are happening at once here:

  1. The massive push to get more people into university is coming home to roost. DSG are right that "a university degree today is not a sign of becoming middle-class. It’s a way for the working class to make themselves suitable for the post-industrial workplace. This must be the basis of any class analysis of the current argument." However, it hasn't been sold this way: students have been told they're investing in their own upward mobility, only to graduate and find it was bullshit. And so the 'lucky' ones fill the call centres and the chugging teams while the rest sign on. This clash between expectation and reality is potentially quite combustible, as the potential sense of 'middle class entitlement' is subsumed into the wider groundswell of working class anger.
  2. At the same time, what remains of the post-war social contract is being torn up. The NHS is being privatised, pensions shredded, jobs cut and a return to recession only months away, following the Eurozone. Private sector workers aren't being spared either, with Sparks facing 35% pay cuts.
  3. Finally, there's been a collapse in state legitimacy, following expenses scandals, tuition fees hikes, years of the police being police, leading to things like #occupy and the demand for 'real democracy', and an opening up of a new political space.

It's impossible to predict how these tendencies will develop. But it's a potent mixture. If the Eurozone collapses and banks follow - could we see an Argentina-esque scenario of savings disappearing and the subsequent explosive class recomposition? If banks need another bail-out, is austerity now a permanent condition? Increasingly, it's feeling like something has to give. As long as we're on the back foot, that something could well be our living standards. But these are interesting times. A lot of the old class compromises which bought social peace in the past are being torn up, and the anger behind the August riots hasn't gone away. Watch this space.


Rob Ray

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Rob Ray on December 7, 2011

There's no doubt the state has beeing thinking about this too, hence the otherwise inexplicable desire to invest in a taser on every street, baton rounds and water cannon.


12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Khawaga on December 7, 2011

Regarding graduates with no future. Reads very much like a Norh Africa scenario; university in several Arab countries used to be the ticket to a cushy government job, now it just lead to unemployment and overemployment (leading to an often crushing feeling of alienation). This hit North Africa around the 90s IIRC, and major upheavals 10-20 years later. Not saying that we'll see the same development in Europe or North America, though it's likely it will explode earlier.

On top of the negative wages is of course the deep debt most students have upon graduating. Students are essentially ticking abstract labour bombs today.


12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on December 7, 2011