Several IFJ member unions have over the years launched campaigns to bring exploitative employers to book. They tend to focus on the failure by media companies to pay interns. One of these campaigns, the "Cashback For Interns", waged by the NUJ in the UK and Ireland brings together other trade unions, and supports interns in claiming at least the minimum wage. Of the 25 editorial intern vacancies advertised in one jobsite, the union found that only three stated the positions were paid. Ten noted the positions were unpaid but included travel expenses, and the remainder did not clarify either way.
The scandal of exploitation recently came to a head in the US, following the sale of the Huffington Post to AOL for a whopping $315m. The Newspaper Guild, an IFJ affiliate, launched its own campaign to shame the former owner, Arianna Huffington, to invest some of her huge AOL deal profits in paid journalism and share some of this fortune with the journalists who made her success. Arianna has for many years used her credential as a left-leaning media tycoon to build a business model based on the free labour of thousands of bloggers.
Now several commentators are leading the backlash describing her as having misled and exploited people – “a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates," wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten; “At media companies, a nation of serfs" blasted David Carr, the New York Times media critic.
Her former writers, some in the freelancers’ unit of the California Media Workers Guild, joined the fray setting a Facebook page "Hey Arianna, can you spare a dime?", campaigning for Huffington to pay them back some of the mountain of cash they made for her. Huffington built her business from webstart to multimillion success story in less than six years. But like many of the new captains of the information age industry, she used many of the weapons of old age capitalism to achieve huge profits at the expense of her largely unpaid and exploited workers.
Our unions everywhere should follow on the steps of the NUJ in the UK and the TNG in the US and campaign against these slave labour practices.