As people of Cambridge, we should applaud the McDonald’s workers in Newmarket Road.
The first staff at the firm to strike in UK history, they are leading the way on behalf of millions of workers across the country on zero hours contracts and low wages.
But they are also leading the way for all the rest of us.
For those of us in Cambridge who don’t work at McDonalds, we might think the only possible impact of this strike is whether we’ll be able to pick up a McMuffin sandwich on the way to work.
But we’d be wrong. The strike is about all of us.
It’s hardly surprising that this strike should happen in Cambridge. The city is reported by one study to be the inequality capital of the UK (Centre for Cities 2017).
That means the gaps between rich and poor (and everyone in between) are among the highest in the country in Cambridge.
Inequality is not just about poverty. It is about well-being across the social spectrum.
Years of social research has shown the harm inequality does to us, whatever income level we are on.
So if you are on a high income in the US you are more likely to die younger than on the equivalent wage in a less unequal country like Japan or Sweden, the Equality Trust has shown.
The same goes for all sorts of social ills and conditions.
Drug use, violent crime, homicides, depression, teenage pregnancy, obesity, infant mortality, prisoner populations – all tend to be higher in more unequal societies than more equal ones.
Why? Because when the gaps between us are bigger we have to fight more for our place, we live more stressful lives, and we look out for others less.
If you live in a more unequal country, you are less likely to take part in a voluntary or local group.
And we can see the changes taking place before our eyes as our government presses ahead with austerity.
Infant mortality, often said to be the canary in the coalmine, is on the rise again following the launch of austerity in 2010.
In the US, more working white men are dying than before austerity began in 2010. Deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide are going up.
Meanwhile the power of (inherited?) wealth and profit is growing relative to the power of the average worker.
Since the 1970s the share of national income going to wages has gone down from 80% to 73% a major new report says. The IPPR thinktank’s commission on economic justice shows that the share of national income going to profits has risen.
In Cambridge, we are riven by inequality. It imposes itself in every aspect of our lives.
Residents of Kings Hedges die on average 11 years younger than in Newnham.
Cambridge East (CB5) is 12th in the UK postcodes with the highest burglary rates.
Meanwhile, the numbers who are suffering severe financial stress appear to be growing.
One in eight households in Cambridge now cannot afford to heat their homes. Food bank use doubled year on year between 2013 and 2015.
We have a duty to ourselves to challenge this. We cannot have a conversation about how we can become a flourishing community without putting wage disparities on the table.
That means we need to be supporting workers like those at McDonald’s because their goal is in the public good.
We need leaders to be taking pay cuts and encouraging inclusion by reducing wage gaps.
Because when wages are closer, and the spoils of growth are more widely shared, the community at large benefits from a healthier happier life.
And don’t let anyone tell you we need high inequality for growth. Patents per head are higher in more equal societies. Inequality only serves to waste talent.
So here’s to the McDonald’s workers today. You deserve our support because your mission will benefit us all.
Picture of a McDonalds restaurant courtesy Chris Devers on Flickr.