As we (students and workers) have discussed, the cultural heritage profession’s labour problem is an international one. One of our Italian compagni, Alessandro d’Amore (@Alex_OLove), thought up some questions about free archaeology, to introduce the British situation to our Italian colleagues. He’s managed to translate my angry rambling into a chiacchierata [chat].
Not good for professionals, not good for casuals
Alessandro gave a good example of the problem in Italy, where the use of volunteers denied work not only to museum specialists but also to casual labourers (agency workers, etc.).
[T]he Minister of Culture was planning an initiative called “La Notte dei Musei” (The Night of Museums). There wasn’t enough money to keep on with this event but the Undersecretary of Culture made a call-to-action for volunteering associations to join the project and make it possible.
Me and my colleagues jumped on our seat reading this news and we tried to carry on a protest to let everybody know our point of view. The only (wrong) matter that came out the discussion was that we were against the volunteering. That’s not true and we are in favor of volunteering associations [as long as] they don’t substitute the work of professional workers….(fn1)
[fn1] The discussion went on for months and months with no results and – of course – it is more complex than the schematic abstract I wrote. For example the Undersecretary explained that in this period of crisis, the volunteering is the only and sustainable method to help museums and institution[s] to go on with their mission. This sentence is unbelievable even because it means the beginning of the end for cultural workers and operators. Most of all, it has to be reminded [remembered], that the mission of a museum is not to stay open but to enhance their collection, divulge values and do research.
Hopefully, whether it’s by me finding things or people pointing things out or whatever, we’ll start to get a lot more English-language information on the situation in Italy (and elsewhere).
The short answer’s “no”
But we do need to refuse to perform unpaid labour
Second to last, Alessandro asked: “Do you a have a solution in your mind or a way out for this condition? Do you think that this trend can be reversed?”
…. It’s awkward to discuss, and I reiterate that I support genuine volunteering (that is not used to replace the workforce), but I believe that, first and foremost, we need to refuse to perform unpaid labour. Our social and professional concern for cultural heritage is being exploited to pressure us into “doing what needs to be done”. Our desperation to beat the odds is being exploited to make us do anything that might help us get a job. (And 299 times out of 300, it will not.) As long as we acquiesce to being exploited, we will be exploited, the profession will be precarised, and our cultural heritage will be endangered.