‘too much to look after and not enough money’: organisations’ own preference for employees over volunteers

Posted: 13/08/2013 in free archaeology, Research
Tags: , , ,

Doug’s highlighted one of the (many) things that frustrates me about free archaeology. (I spend a lot of my time stemming the flow of vitriol.) The unpaid-labour-dependent model’s not even sustainable (or, at the very least, not truly functional).

For instance, long before the onset of austerity, my local library was forced to become a “community library” (bought out and reduced to a two-day-a-week service by volunteers). Obviously, that’s not a criticism of what the community librarians are doing, or how they are doing it, or why; it’s a demonstration that, with the best will and the best intentions, an amateur service won’t be as good as a professional service.

Doug (who obviously appreciates the difficulties that might make volunteers’ participation irregular or impossible) gave the real-life example of a ‘100% free training event’:

Training in archaeology, free. Trainer, volunteered time, free to participants. Travel to site, free. It was the best we could do to reduce the problems of #freearchaeology, short of paying the students to be trained. Not only did many of them not show up but they also took the places of other people who wanted to participate but couldn’t because we did not have enough room in the van for them.

At the same time, ‘museums and archaeologists have too much to look after and not enough money’. Hence, ‘[w]hole organizations are built around the work of volunteers and would fail without them. Work done by volunteers is [generally] not done to save money’ but because otherwise it would not be done at all. (Again obviously, Doug vehemently condemns wilful exploiters.)

Doug presents this as (good, logical) evidence that the organisations themselves would prefer paid employees to unpaid voluntary workers. Yet what are people supposed to think when, as Doug observed, English Heritage ‘put a positive spin’ on ‘crippl[ing]’ cuts!?

While I was away, I was fortunate enough to miss Doug’s expletive-eliciting post on EH’s death by a thousand cuts – though, ‘if you look at it, it will probably be only ten before the government has absolutely crippled [English Heritage]‘.

Is English Heritage delusional? No. Does it support the cuts? Presumably not. Does it fear being punished for being honest? Um. Does it believe that keeping quiet will save it from even greater harm? (In other words, is English Heritage delusional?) Er. Does it believe that it will be able to maintain a truly functional service through the exploitation of unpaid labour (the “engagement” of “communities” and the “involvement” of “volunteers”)?

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