The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 15th February 2008
Bereaved mothers challenge war
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SHUT DOWN BY GENERAL STRIKE
by our European Affairs Correspondent
THOUSANDS 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 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
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
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
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
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
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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