Ross Perlin Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, Verso: London, 2011, xviii + 258 pp: 9781844676866 14.99 [pounds sterling] (hbk)
Readers of this journal need no convincing as to just how 'feral' neoliberalism has become. Having first undermined the ability to oppose politically (anti-strike legislation, union busting, employment outsourcing, the fall of communism, the rise of 'New Labour') and ideologically (the promotion of vacuous 'celebrity', the 'cultural turn' displacing Marxist analysis), capital then proceeded to asset-strip entire nations (privatisation, economic crisis in the euro zone). Resources that would otherwise be available for investment in education, health, infrastructure, public-sector jobs or welfare programmes were accordingly diverted to off-shore tax havens. Any pretence at media objectivity about such developments has long-since vanished, as craven interviewers privilege the opinions of 'the markets' (bankers, oligarchs, hedge-fund managers, speculators and financiers), grovelling before multi-millionaire CEOS who advocate yet more deregulation and austerity.
A 'feral' aspect of this race to the bottom that is perhaps not as well known concerns the impact on capitalist social relations of production. That neoliberalism entails the rise of gender-specific part-time working is not disputed; less commonplace is information about other working arrangements (sweatshops, unfreedom) affecting different categories of labour (migrants, youth). For this reason alone, this empirically useful but theoretically flawed book by Ross Perlin is a welcome addition to our knowledge of the way capitalism is transforming its workforce.
Interns are temporary unpaid or low-paid young workers, mostly college students, who toil for long hours under coercive forms of control (pp. 16-17, 112, 141). Perlin charts the rise of internships, as capitalist enterprises in the US and Europe increasingly replace full-time employees (permanent, unionised, well-paid) with this kind of cheap, short-term contract labour. By insisting on academic credits gained through work experience, universities and colleges fuel the endless supply of student workers (83ff., 93). From paying for a placement via tuition fees, a student is now expected to have to bid against others to get one, as companies auction their internships (145ff.). Despite a rhetoric of empowerment (acquiring skills, exercising autonomy, a step towards...