ATHENS Greek workers will walk off the job in a 24-hour general strike next week, unions said on Wednesday, in the first major protest against the government's latest plan to cut thousands of public-sector jobs to please international lenders.
The strike next Tuesday could coincide with a parliamentary vote expected next week on the policies Athens agreed with its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders as a condition for more aid.
Among the measures included in the multi-pronged bill are job cuts for teachers, school guards, municipal police and other local government posts. A date for the vote has yet to be set, but the government hopes to put it to deputies by July 19.
"The government and the lenders need to finally realize that we are people - not numbers," GSEE, the biggest private-sector union said. "Our fight will continue and it will intensify as long as those who take decisions insist on driving the people to poverty".
Greece's lenders, which have bailed it out twice with 240 billion euros in aid, have grown impatient with the slow progress it has made in streamlining a 600,000-strong public sector widely seen as corrupt and inefficient.
But with unemployment at almost 27 percent, twice the euro zone average, the workers are furious at plans to put 12,500 workers into a "mobility pool" by September, giving them eight months to find work in another department or get fired.
Some 25,000 workers will be placed in the scheme by the end of the year, the government has said.
Hundreds of teachers rallied outside the education ministry on Wednesday to protest the decision, a sign of the resistance the government may face. Scuffles broke out between police and some of the protesters who stormed the ministry's courtyard.
Thousands of municipal workers have held rowdy marches in the capital this week, with uniformed police riding their motor bikes to ministries, sounding sirens and honking horns. Dozens of them held sit-ins at several public buildings in Athens and other Greek cities.
POE-OTA, the federation of local government unions that staged two strikes this week, decided to step up labor action. It was expected to join a work stoppage and a rally called by the biggest public-sector union, ADEDY, on Thursday.
Representing about 2.5 million workers, GSEE and ADEDY have gone on strike repeatedly since Greece was plunged into a debt crisis in late 2009.
While labor action has been less frequent and more muted than last year when marches often turned violent, protests against public-sector reform have picked up since the government agreed this week to shrink the civil service.
A poll by Public Issue showed that 55 percent of Greeks expected more protests in the future, up from 43 percent in June.
But 65 percent of the respondents said they did not want early elections. The poll conducted for Skai TV showed the ruling conservative New Democracy party maintaining its narrow lead over the main opposition, the leftist Syriza party.
(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Cooney)