Anyone following the belligerent PR blitzkrieg launched by Mc Donald’s Europe last week to bully the Oxford Dictionary into altering their definition of ‘McJob’ might accuse the corporation of either misguided preciousness or a sycophantic affinity with the Concetta Fierravanti-Wells school of baseless slander.
According to Oxford, a ‘McJob’ is “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector”. No arguments there—the dictionary doyens are just documenting a throw-away term that’s been in general use for 20 years. But a quick survey of the labour market across the Continent reveals a growing army of youngsters for whom any type of job, let alone a McJob, would be a welcome addition to their disappointingly cobbled-together résumés.
In France ‘génération précaire’ famously took to the streets last year to demand permanent work but Angela Merkel’s ‘generation praktikum’ are doing it much, much tougher. In an under-the-table rort that makes WorkChoices look positively Leninist, employers are free to hire un- or underpaid workers for limited timeframes with the carrot of a permanent position that almost never materialises.
In ‘poor but sexy’ Berlin, it’s quite common for 30-year-olds to skip from internship to internship, working 5 or 6 days a week for 200 euro a month (if they’re lucky). Among foreign interns, any politician spruiking a 457 visa-equivalent would be accorded hero status.
The country’s ‘super union’ Verdi admits organizing efforts have been stifled by the “invisibility” of the workers concerned—and the compulsory health insurance levies introduced by Merkel have made off-the-books interns extra attractive. Of course, employers argue the system’s a good way to evaluate staff and help them build elusive ‘experience’.
If only this were so—a large slab of internships are McJobs in industries with drastically reduced prospects. Seventy per-cent of my local bookshop’s employees are glum-looking interns.
Three weeks ago, Copenhagen’s youth house was the focus for youthful anti-police riots as masked construction workers destroyed the symbolic squat. Two weeks ago, hulking German paramilitary police ambushed Berlin’s trendy northern suburbs to avoid a homegrown repeat.
As Europe celebrates its 50th birthday, greying Boomers in established industries continue to snuggle up to cushy collective agreements negotiated in the 1980s. But Brussels will no doubt face increasing trouble from a burgeoning posse of generational malcontents struggling to recoup stolen wages, and lost time.