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Broken windows and frayed tempers in St-Pierre-Miquelon

Striking workers in St-Pierre-Miquelon had reached their breaking point and so they had begun breaking windows.

In 1980, striking workers fought back against high cost of living on French islands

Tensions over the high costs of good flared up in St-Pierre-Miquelon in March 1980. 1:44

Striking workers had reached their breaking point and so they had begun breaking windows.

That display of anger had officials in the French possession of St-Pierre-Miquelon worried enough to be calling for possible backup, in the form of extra police officers being flown in from France.

"General labourers have been on strike for a week and some supplies are running low," the CBC's John McQuaker reported on The National on March 20, 1980.

"Yesterday, hundreds of strikers went on a window-smashing spree, attacking buildings belonging to some of the big businessmen in town."

Government workers paid more

The March 1980 strike in St-Pierre-Miquelon was rooted in the high cost of living and the fact that non-government workers weren't making enough money to support themselves. (The National/CBC Archives)

McQuaker said the striking workers were angry about the high cost of food and heating oil. And they alleged that merchants were setting prices at a level where only higher-paid government workers could afford those goods at higher prices.

"But the labourers, who work for local merchants and on the docks, get paid only about half of what the government workers get," McQuaker explained.

"So they want more money and a government commission to look into prices."

'We cannot manage any more'

A striking worker in St-Pierre-Miquelon, speaks to a reporter about the tensions in the town in March of 1980. (The National/CBC Archives)

A worker who spoke to the media confirmed what was being reported about the problems in St-Pierre-Miquelon, an archipelago in the Atlantic close to Newfoundland.

"We are underpaid and the cost of fuel in St. Pierre is very expensive and we cannot afford to heat our house with the money we are making now," the man said.

"And the cost of living is really high and we cannot manage any more."

A report from United Press Canada said the workers were seeking a 17 per cent wage increase, to take effect immediately.

Inequality not going away

The CBC's John McQuaker said that even if the ongoing strike of March 1980 was settled, the root problems of inequality weren't going away in St-Pierre-Miquelon. (The National/CBC Archives)

McQuaker noted that people had started to run out of heating oil — a problem that had forced a local school to close temporarily.

The reporter said ongoing meetings seemed to have soothed the tensions and the strike was expected to come to an end in the near future.

But that didn't mean the root problems had been solved.

"As long as there are two distinct groups of people in St. Pierre — well-paid government employees and poorly paid private sector workers — there will always be tension here, tension that can cause people to break windows just to draw attention to their grievances," said McQuaker.