The SKWAWKBOX has been covering the saga of ‘centrist’ MP Chuka Umunna’s advert for an unpaid intern – including his defence of the ad, a rebuke from the Labour leader’s office and comments from the student who first revealed it, who described it as:
an employer expecting a student to take out a student loan to work for them.
Umunna is one of a number of MPs part of Progress, a Blairite pressure group that has persistently tried to resist Labour’s change of direction – and return to its roots – under Jeremy Corbyn. And it seems the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.
Progress has advertised on the W4MP (Working for an MP) website for what Labour staffer Frankie Leach described as an ‘entire comms and events team powered purely by unpaid Labour:
The ad – which went up yesterday, when the story about Umunna’s unpaid labour was already in wide circulation – suggests that Progress might have learned from Umunna’s situation and tweaked its language accordingly. It asks for ‘volunteers’ rather than interns:
However, ‘organis[ing] flagship events’ or acting as a sub-editor are not usually casual volunteer roles, so it looks like a ‘walks like a duck’ situation – especially when the ad describes ‘successful candidates’. The W4MP site adds a note at the bottom that because the role is voluntary, there should be no set hours and applicants should be ‘free to come and go as you wish’. However, the actual Progress advert makes no such clarification.
Ms Leach was unimpressed, pointing out that the comparable Class think-tank pays over ten pounds an hour with guaranteed hours – although Class differs in at least one important respect:
Pete MacLeod of the Living Wage Interns campaign backed by the Living Wage Foundation was also unimpressed, telling the SKWAWKBOX:
Hiring an entire team of unpaid interns doesn’t seem like ‘progress’ – it’s quite the opposite. Such positions can only attract those that can afford to give their time for free and excludes those that can’t. Progress needs to re-think how this fits with their centre-left aims and instead offer the real living wage.
MacLeod – himself a former unpaid intern – went on:
Politicians should be leading by example and not exploiting the fact some young people can afford to work for free and others cannot. Unpaid internships reduce the pool of candidates that can afford to apply so they are bad for employers as well as for young people. We also need internships that pay the living wage to reflect the spiralling living costs that young people are facing.
Progress has been contacted for comment. Chuka Umunna has so far failed to apologise for seeking unpaid workers and is believed to be pressing ahead with the ‘recruitment’.
Edit: Progress Director Richard Angell responded:
Progress has gone through considerable changing in the last year and our central task of renewing the centre-left in Labour has become more important than ever. People have been coming forward to volunteer to help ensure our success – to get out of London and do more events, increase our social media impact and hear from a greater range of voices.
Like many good causes with a social purpose, we have created a structured way that people can volunteer. All of which are tasks that can be done in people’s free time, not from an office or specific location. The volunteer is free to change their mind or opt out of any commitments.
Progress was one of the first groups to stop unpaid internship and supports changes in the law to ensure this is not just best practice but common Place.
If people wish to volunteer with Progress – in their own time and in a location of their choosing – we look forward to hearing from them. The experience included training and all reasonable expenses will be covered.
Pete MacLeod set up the Living Wage Interns website after being frustrated that unpaid internships were still being advertised 10 years after he had graduated. The website only lists internships that pay the real living wage.
Many left-wing Labour members have long considered that Progress is an organisation whose aims and values are incompatible with those of a genuine Labour Party. Union leaders and others have called for the organisation to be ‘proscribed’.
Given the warning sent by the Labour leader’s office yesterday to all MPs reminding them that such unpaid positions are contrary to Labour policy, this is just one of a string of issues that should have Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour National Executive Committee thinking hard about whether Progress and its ally Labour First have any place in the democratic, member-driven movement that the party is becoming.
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