It was the second time in three weeks that Greek workers had walked off the job, with yesterday's strike aimed at showing European Union leaders meeting in Brussels that new wage and pension cuts would only worsen their plight after five years of recession.
More than 30,000 protesters gathered in central Athens, as most business and public sector activity ground to a halt at the start of the 24-hour strike called by the country's two biggest labour unions, ADEDY and GSEE.
Tension mounted when a small group of protesters began throwing pieces of marble, bottles and petrol bombs at police barricading part of the square in front of parliament, prompting riot police to fire several rounds of tear gas to disperse them.
"Enough is enough. They've dug our graves, shoved us in and we are waiting for the priest to read the last words," said Konstantinos Balomenos, a 58-year-old worker at a water utility firm, whose wage has been halved to €900 (£730) and who has two unemployed sons.
Some protesters were carrying Greek, Spanish and Portuguese flags and shouted: "EU, IMF out".
Greece is in its worst downturn since the Second World War and must make at least €11.5 billion of cuts to satisfy the "troika" of the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, and secure the next tranche of a €130bn bailout.
Yannis Panagopoulos, head of the GSEE private sector union, said: "Agreeing to catastrophic measures means driving society to despair."