The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 15th February 2008

Bereaved mothers challenge war legality

Welcome To Our Weekly Digest Edition

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by our European Affairs Correspondent

of Greek workers marched through Athens, Thessaloniki and many other towns on Wednesday to protest against government moves to cut their pensions, during a one-day general strike that paralysed the country and cut it off from the outside world.

Tens of thousands of strikers marched in the bitter cold through central Athens, carrying banners reading “hands off our pension funds” and “the future belongs to the workers” while shopkeepers along the protest route closed their stores in solidarity with the demonstrators.


Strikers shut down public services and crippled transport in the general strike called to protest against the reactionary Costas Karamanlis government’s attack on workers’ pensions. Schools, government offices, banks, docks and building sites were closed as millions of workers responded to the call of the two largest umbrella unions, the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) and the Civil Servants’ Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY), to protest against the government’s planned social security “reforms”.

Hospital doctors only treated emergencies, news programmes went off the air, all civil flights were cancelled, ferries to the islands were halted and ships were tied at port. Journalists and printers walked out, shutting down the national press and the national news agency, while angry workers rallied in Athens to mobilise opposition to Karamanlis’ plan to merge scores of pension schemes; cut back on early retirement and raise the retirement age.

Transport workers shut down all urban and national train and bus services but the unions agreed to allow the Athens metro and tram lines to run for six hours to let strikers travel to the rally and march on parliament in the city centre.

The Greek government claims the “reforms” are needed to make the economy more competitive and restore the pension system which they claim will collapse within 15 years if nothing is done. The unions accuse the New Democracy government of making a U-turn since winning a second four-year term in September, after pledging not to raise the retirement age, cut pensions or raise contributions.

we won’t accept

“We won’t accept attempts to capsize the pension system,” said Yiannis Panagopoulos, president of the General Confederation of Workers in Greece  “We won’t accept pension changes that hurt the young, women and workers in heavy and arduous industries.”

The unions also want the government to clamp down on employers who don’t pay pension contributions, depriving the system of about 4.5 billion euros a year, according to Stathis Anestis, another GSEE official. “The government must support the social security system, and not undermine it,” he said. “There’s no social group that isn’t affected by these plans.
“Millions of people are on strike today,” Anestis declared. “We expect the government to get the message and change its policies.”

The Karamanlis’ government has been rocked by scandals. Last year it was revealed that overpriced government bonds were sold to state pension funds and a labour minister, who was the architect of these proposed pension “reforms”, was sacked when he was exposed for building a second home in an Athens in breach of planning codes and employing illegal Indian immigrants at his country house.

Now the government’s majority hangs on the balance following a sex and blackmail saga that has highlighted the nepotism and widespread corruption in Greek politics and the press. A senior MP in the ruling New Democracy bloc who was named in the scandal attempted to kill himself. He has now resigned, reducing Karamanlis’ overall majority to just one seat in the Greek parliament.



Class agenda behind religious laws

THE BRITISH legal system is a part of the bourgeois British state, designed to protect property rights and the rights of the rich and powerful to remain rich and powerful. Nevertheless over hundreds of years it has made concessions to the bourgeois ideals of liberty and equality. Reforms have been hard-won in struggle and continually have to be defended against assaults from “anti-terror” legislation and so on.

 But it is generally recognised that all citizens – in theory at least – have equal rights and freedoms before the law and are entitled to live in peace, hold property and live without fear of false imprisonment or arbitrary judgement. And in theory everyone is equal before the law and protected against discrimination – regardless of gender, race or religion – though often this protection has to be fought for.

 This is a bourgeois democratic state and for all its faults it is better than a feudal state – with inequality according to property holding, gender, race and so on enshrined in law. All religious laws hark back to feudal ideas, recognising only “God” as the true judge of right and wrong, and his priests as the interpreters of what that means – and they cannot be challenged by any reasoned argument.

 When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said that it was inevitable that certain aspects of Sharia law would become recognised by the British state for settling disputes within Muslim communities, he was calling for a return to dark days. He pleaded that this was “not about beheadings but about things like family law” he implied that family law is a trivial thing. Yet to be locked in a bad marriage or arbitrarily divided from one’s children is equivalent to a life sentence of misery.

 He implied that it was possible for Britain to take on some aspects of Sharia for some people. It is like the famous cartoon of the curate’s egg – where a shy young curate, having been served a rotten egg for breakfast and asked if it was good replied, not brave enough to complain, that “parts of it are excellent”. There is no such thing as an egg that is partially excellent and the rest rotten. And there is no such thing as any code of law based on religion that is acceptable in a modern democracy.

 Would he grant the right of Catholic priests to bar women from Catholic families having access to contraception, divorce or abortion and give that bar legal backing?

  All aspects of religious law are reactionary and hark back to the days when religious leaders governed the every day lives of the working classes – and upper classes could always bribe their way round it.

This is a battle between secular and religious law that began with the battle between Henry II and Thomas Becket.

 There is no equality in Sharia law, especially for women and the poor. For a start, it is impossible for any women to become a priest or judge. There is no consistent body of Sharia law. Sharia judges interpret the law according to what they deem as fair.  Most strive to do this as well as they can for the benefit of their community but they are inevitably bound by their prejudices and the system is open to bribery.  Cases often end in negotiations over compensation between families – where wealthiest will always prevail.

 Some who claim it is equal towards women say there is no ban on women going out and about as they chose or wearing what they choose. But if a woman doing so is attacked in any way they will say, “What was she doing out and about when she should have been at home in the kitchen looking after her family?” Men do not suffer the same castigation.

 The law must be secular and equal to everyone. Family issues are not trivial and ideas that senior family members always know what is best for younger and more vulnerable members is just not so. It harks back to the Roman concept of family as the private property of the patriarch to do with as he wished. And Rowan Williams betrays his own reactionary assumptions about families in his remarks.

 He claims to be trying to build bridges between communities but most Muslims in Britain do not want Sharia law. It has no place in a modern industrial society, nor does any other religion-based law code.

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