History@Work recently held a round table on Unpaid Internships: A Foot in the Door or a Step Backward? I don’t want to go through everything all over again, I just want to highlight two things…
Unpaid internship is unpaid labour
It is remarkably common for advocates of unpaid internship to recognise that it is unpaid labour, and thus (probably) a violation of minimum wage laws; and that it is at least as important for networking as it is for experience, and thus (definitely) disadvantageous to those who cannot afford to perform unpaid labour.
So Regional Research Associates’ public historian Deborah Morse-Kahn argued that, ‘while the agency offering the internship got unpaid labor, I got solid experience and became known to the CRM community’.
Since when was indentured servitude a bad thing?… Since 1920, you say?
Any argument that begins ‘in general, I am against… indentured servitude’ ends badly. And public history internship coordinator and lecturer Jane Becker considered that,
In general, I am against the practice of indentured servitude, but creating unpaid positions that serve individual goals and needs can be an effective and even necessary step in gaining professional experience and credentials necessary to gain a paying job.
Indentured labour is wrong, and exploiting your freedom to be exploited in order to privilege yourself over your colleagues is bad for you, your colleagues, your institution and your profession.