It’s time for young people to demand better from their employers

The job market for millennials and Gen Z sucks and we really have no choice but to participate in it. Illustration by Alice Zhang/The Peak

By: Gurpreet Kambo, SFU Student

Jobs for young people suck, and unions are the answer.

This is the biggest observation I gleaned from a CBC News article listing the 10 kinds of jobs that receive the most applicants, and the 10 jobs that receive the least. The article points out that the jobs with the most applicants are largely retail and restaurant jobs — in other words, low-skill jobs with high levels of turnover. Many employers in these industries rely on the large number of applicants because by emphasizing business interests over quality of life for their staff, they tend to quickly burn through employees.

Beyond this, the precarity and low-quality of work available for young people in 2019 is also laid bare by the experiences of myself and many of my millennial peers.

When I was younger, my job at McDonalds involved having to ask the manager at the end of my shift if there was anything else I could do before I left, to “pitch in for the team.” Inevitably, the task involved cleaning some machine or sorting and taking out the garbage — an often lengthy, disgusting task that would take more than an hour, and which I was expected to do for free. I quit on a whim for some other crappy job, after realizing I’d put in hundreds of hours of free labour. Many other jobs I’ve had, including restaurants and retail stores, have similarly been exploitative, with poor working conditions and bad pay.

Young people, immigrants, and those with little choice but to apply for these low-quality jobs are easier to exploit by their employers, and when they burn out, there’s always another person waiting. This means that these companies have no incentive to treat their employees well. Unless those employees refuse to be exploited — in other words, unless they form a union.

While these issues are more egregious in some industries than others, in general, worker exploitation is inevitable in a late capitalist society. The capitalist mindset of disposable labour (including freelance work and the gig economy) has made it so that big corporations and organizations have little to no incentive to offer workers long-term job security.

While there are few all-encompassing solutions to the overwhelming problems of being a labourer in late capitalism, unionization is the single biggest thing that could address this problem. Unfortunately, unions have fallen out of favour in the private sector, particularly because corporations have gotten good at discouraging them, and right-wing campaigns have demonized them.

However, the truth is that capitalism needs labour. While reforming or remaking capitalism to be more equitable is a whole other discussion entirely, there is great power in the collectivization of labour. In fact, this is the only thing that large corporations will listen to: the labour force they need speaking with one voice, declaring that their labour will not be had without better conditions.

Young labourers need to disincentivize the mindset of labour being disposable. Perhaps then the restaurant and sales associate jobs that now see so few applicants would be sought after because they would be good workplaces that treat their employees well. It’s time for millennials and Gen Z to flex their collectivist muscle to make this happen.