Greek workers disrupted rail and sea travel and shut down public services across the country on Tuesday in a 24-hour strike over government austerity measures.
The planned strike is the fifth major protest since Athens unveiled austerity measures to battle its budget—deficit crisis.
Government offices, state banks as well as tax, municipality and judicial offices remained closed in protest against pension reforms, salary and pension cuts, and tax increases.
Hospitals operated with emergency staff while journalists also joined the strike, causing a virtual news blackout to go into effect across the country.
Rail and road transport across the country were disrupted while people trying to travel from the country’s main port of Pireaus experienced difficulties, after two of the 14 unions that make up the Panhellenic Seamen’s Federation joined the strike.
Scuffles broke out in the early hours of Thursday after 500 striking port workers tried to prevent travellers from boarding ferries.
Port authorities said dozens of ferries to the Saronic Gulf were cancelled due to the strike.
In an effort to protect the vital tourism industry, air traffic controllers opted not to join the strike at Athens’ International Airport but Aegean Airlines said it cancelled 14 domestic flights and Olympic Air called off 34 flights to the Greek islands.
Thousands of private sector workers and civil servants are expected to march through Athens at about midday as parliament begins discussing the reform which raises the retirement age, cuts benefits and curtails early pensions.
Most people believe the pension reform will not save the deficit—hit pension funds and insist their sacrifices are in vain, a recent poll showed on Saturday.
Participation in recent protests has waned, partly as Greeks begin escaping to the islands for summer holidays. But unions representing more than 2.5 million workers expect big public support on Tuesday.
Greece’s parliament is set to approve changes to the country’s pension system, which will reduce benefits and state spending, by the beginning of July.
The changes, required by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in return for 110 billion euros (140 billion dollar) in emergency loans, are needed to help Greece narrow what has become the European Union’s second biggest budget deficit.
Analysts question whether Athens will be able to enforce the tough measures because it has the potential of unleashing large—scale social unrest — more so than any other austerity decision.
Its success will depend on whether the government can maintain a tough stance on implementing all areas of the reform bill, which is likely to become more difficult as unemployment rises and the country falls deeper into recession, analysts say.
The ruling Socialist government has 157 of the 300 seats in parliament, making it likely that the reforms will pass despite criticism.