Greek public school guards protesting a wave of mass dismissals of civil servants finished on Tuesday a unique 560-km "marathon" race in front of the parliament building in the center of Athens.
A dozen school wardens, who were among the first group of 12,500 civil servants put on a mobility scheme this autumn with the prospect of layoff next year, walked the distance from the northern Greece city of Thessaloniki to Athens in protest of austerity imposed to exit the crisis.
"Marathon of Primary Surplus, Unemployment and Poverty," was dubbed their feat which started on Sept. 28.
In Athens, they were warmly welcomed by hundreds of colleagues, other civil servants and citizens who feel their pain after three years of tough cuts on salaries and pensions and tax increases introduced to slash deficits and avoid default.
The austerity and reform measures have fuelled unemployment and recession in record highs in Greece.
However, the government and International Monetary Fund and European Union creditors who support Greece with multi-billion-euro bailout loans since 2010 insist that it was the only path to get the country back on the track to growth, which is expected to start next year.
Among the "marathon runners" who reached Syntagma square on Tuesday was Marina Lida, a middle-aged school guard.
"We did it to express our anger at government economic policies. They abolished an entire category of employees overnight. They changed our lives and the lives of our children overnight," she told Xinhua.
Under the mobility plan which will see tens of thousands of employees in civil services transferred to other positions in the civil sector or sacked if other jobs can't be found in coming months, Lida lost her job this September.
She already struggles to pay her bills. She argues that economic problems can be resolved without further suffering for people.
"It was an unforgettable experience. People supported us all the way to Athens, wherever we passed by. This gives us strength to continue the struggle," said Manolis Stathopoulos, who was also among the marchers.
"It's either us or them" and "We all have right to employment," read banners held by protesters during a symbolic rally staged by the umbrella union of civil servants ADEDY in front of the parliament.
The "marathon" was held as the Greek government is due to launch a new round of negotiations with auditors of international lenders next week on the conditions of further bailout aid to Greece to overcome the debt crisis.
Amidst media reports that lenders push for additional harsh measures in coming months to cover fiscal gaps and meet targets as a precondition for offering further aid to Athens, the government stresses that there is no more room for new austerity policies.
"We need social consensus. Greek people cannot bear any further cuts on their income," Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos underlined on Tuesday during a press briefing, as school guards were protesting outside.