Greek workers began a two-day strike on Tuesday to protest the latest round of austerity cuts that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants parliament to approve on Wednesday.
ATHENS - Tens of thousands of Greek workers began a 48-hour strike on Tuesday to protest a new round of austerity cuts that unions say will devastate the poor and drive a failing economy to collapse.
The strike was called by Greece's two biggest labor organizations and is the third in two months against spending cuts and reforms that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants parliament to approve on Wednesday to unlock international aid.
Transport was severely disrupted across the country and schools, banks and local government offices were shut. Hospitals were working on emergency staffing.
The government has implored Greeks to endure the cuts to avoid national bankruptcy but a quarter of the nation is jobless, poverty and suicide levels are soaring and many feel angry with the political class.
"They should go to hell and beyond," said Anais Metaxopoulou, a 65-year-old pensioner.
"They should ask me how I feel when I have to go to church to beg for food. I wouldn't hurt a fly but I would happily behead one of them."
Athens needs parliamentary approval for the package - which includes slashing pensions by as much as a quarter and scrapping holiday bonuses - to ensure its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders release more than 31 billion euros ($40 billion) of aid, much of it aimed at shoring up banks.
The strike coincides with the vote in parliament on Wednesday when the government is expected to just about win backing for austerity cuts and labor reforms that the smallest party in Samaras's coalition has refused to back.
NOTHING LEFT TO CUT
"We are striking on Tuesday and Wednesday to send a message to the government - these measures must not pass!" said Nikos Kioutsoukis, general secretary of the GSEE private sector union that called the strike along with the ADEDY public sector union.
"It's unacceptable that the people have to pay for the funds bankers are getting from the state."
Trains, buses and the subway came to a halt. Many flights have been canceled, ships remained tied up at ports and taxi drivers also stayed off the streets.
Police beefed up security for midday rallies in Athens that often end in small-scale rioting and clashes with hooded protesters. About a dozen police vans were on standby around the main square outside parliament.
Greece has gone through several rounds of austerity that has helped shrink its economy by a fifth since the debt crisis exploded but failed to get its finances back in order.
The country's public debt is seen at a whopping 189 percent of gross domestic product next year and Athens is expected to be widely off track from targets under its latest bailout agreed with the troika of the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
Some Greeks say the latest cuts could tear society apart.
"Someone needs to tell them there's nothing left to cut," said Vassilis Dimosthenous, a 50-year-old construction worker who has been without a job for 10 months.
"They've made our daily lives unbearable. If only I was 10 years younger I'd leave this place."
(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou.)