The End of Interns, August 2012.

Advertising unpaid internships may soon be illegal in Britain. Last Wednesday, Parliament voted to bring forward a bill, backed by Labour MP Hazel Blears, that would ban job postings that break the country’s minimum wage laws. The bill will not be read again to the House of Commons until February 1, but it has already won cross-party support. You can track its progress here.

It’s not yet clear what the consequence of the bill would be. An aide to Blears downplayed the extent of its influence—the bill is “really just tightening a loophole,” she said. Unpaid internships are already illegal in Britain; minimum wage laws require £6.19 an hour for workers over twenty-one. Yet internships are still common, and the government does not always enforce its own laws. Gus Baker, co-founder of Intern Aware, told the Guardian that the bill would be a step forward for the fight against unpaid work. “This bill not only raises the profile of the issue, but would give the government the power to prosecute companies who advertise illegal unpaid internships.”

One potential negative consequence of banning advertisements for unpaid internships could be that companies continue to offer the same positions but recruit from a smaller selection of students, informed only by word of mouth. But the bill nevertheless shows a growing awareness of the importance of regulating unpaid internships. “This idea, particularly at a time of high unemployment, that you are exploiting and taking advantage of young people is just not acceptable,” Blears said. It’s a lesson parliament has already taken to heart: “If you look at parliament, a year ago there were lots of unpaid internships and now there’s virtually none.”

As I describe in “Opportunity Costs,” forthcoming in Dissent’s winter issue, the growth of internships is part of a larger shift toward an economy that relies increasingly on contingent work. As many as three-quarters of college students undertake internships before they graduate; employers now expect a résumé full of internships for applicants entering their first job (if that job, of course, has not already been replaced by another unpaid internship). But the growth of internships has insidious effects on workplace discipline and behavior, as well. Interns are marked by their willingness to work for free; submissiveness and flexibility are demanded by the job. Interns illustrate the kind of complaisance demanded by contingency. In “Opportunity Costs,” I will address how a feminist lens can help us understand this behavior, key to finding new ways to organize an ever more precarious group of workers.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.