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By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Two of Italy's biggest unions have called a strike by public sector workers on Friday to protest against spending cuts enacted by Prime Minister Mario Monti in his attempts to pull the country out of crisis

Thousands are expected to march through central Rome to a rally near the Coliseum.

The strike follows clashes between anti-austerity protesters and police in Madrid and Athens this week, and coincides with labor unrest at the ILVA steel plant in southern Italy.

University professors, public administration employees and health workers in the CGIL and UIL unions are expected to stop work on Friday. Garbage collectors are also joining the work stoppage.

The strike is against spending cuts passed by Monti's coalition in August that included a modest downsizing of the public sector, where wages have already been frozen for more than two years, and cuts to state healthcare funding.

"Stop hitting the weakest. We have already given enough," is the strike slogan posted on the union Web sites.

"Starve the beast, weaken it, make it inefficient, undermine its potential, interrupt its mission - these are the principles that are behind the government's public administration policy," CGIL's leaders wrote in a letter explaining the walkout.

The spending cuts followed unpopular austerity reforms, and an overhaul of hiring-and-firing rules that drew stiff opposition and protests from labor unions earlier this year.

To head off a Greek-style debt disaster, Monti had hiked taxes and cut pensions when he took over from Silvio Berlusconi in November.

The austerity has hurt household spending and deepened Italy's recession. Italian unemployment rose to 10.7 percent in July, the highest since 2004.

Since August, there has been a growing number of industrial disputes, including at the ILVA steel mill in Taranto and at an aluminum smelter in Sardinia, amid growing anger over austerity and job losses.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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