Decisions about working for free are rarely straightforward. In an ideal world, survival would be guaranteed for people, so they could freely choose to volunteer their skills when they find it meaningful rather than based desperately hoping that this would lead them to paid positions in a distant future. Unfortunately, we are very far from this perfect world, and many of us have at some point worked or hired people to work for free. I am certainly guilty of both, and some of these transactions in social capital, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, were more successful or meaningful than others. Based on this experience, how does one navigate the world full of offers to work for free with very uncertain returns?
Many Lithuanians will tell you that it is not customary to celebrate the International Workers’ Day here, because it brings back bad memories to many. Several important holidays that celebrate emancipation were twisted in the USSR. Women were officially liberated, so the authorities decided that there is no point to demonstrate for women’s rights on the International Women’s Day, it is enough to congratulate women with their liberation (nevermind that they still suffered from gender pay gap, double burden and glass ceiling). Since workers were also officially liberated, the International Workers’ Day was a big compulsory parade. But during the past years people have increasingly started seeing themselves as less post-soviet and more European. The International Workers’ Day was reintroduced as a public holiday by the earlier Social Democratic government, as by a coincidence this was also the day when Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, so this day can also be celebrated as the day when we officially joined ‘the family’. So Lithuanian workers can now demonstrate for their rights back in Lithuania, or they can pack up and move to Sweden. The International Workers’ Day is important, because being a public holiday (there are seven religious and five secular days-off a year in Lithuania, of the secular ones, three are connected to the Lithuanian statehood) it gives people time to think about their situation and join a demonstration for making it better. Yet it is far from a spontaneous and bottom-up demonstration – during the past years it is mostly an opportunity for unions and the Social Democratic Party to gain some visibility. Anyway, we are getting there.