The West Midlands faces a winter of discontent with industrial action by emergency and public sector workers over the festive period.
With firefighters staging the second of their three-hour walkouts from 7am today, paramedics are being balloted over a pay dispute.
A series of ?intermittent strikes? by workers at Birmingham International Airport is also planned for the festive season, if the result of a ballot expected tomorrow gives the go-ahead for action.
And council workers responsible for road gritting, street lighting and traffic signal services in Birmingham have already voted in favour of industrial action in a dispute over privatisation.
Professor Stan Siebert, from Birmingham University and an expert in labour issues, said the region was in ?a heightened state of tension?.
?We are still at the huffing and puffing stage. Neither sides want strikes, but one of them would have to back down.
?However, at the moment everyone seems to be digging their heels in.?
Firefighters taking action over a new shift system are expected to continue their strikes throughout the Christmas period if a settle-ment is not reached. They have already notified the brigade of two more walkouts next week.
Meanwhile, paramedics and technicians are to be balloted after unions claimed the Department of Health had interfered in a pay agreement already reached with ambulance services in the West Midlands and Shropshire.
The results of the ballot are expected by December 17 and Ray Salmon, regional organ-action could be Christmas Eve.
There could be an overtime ban during the paramedic?s busiest time of the year. Ambulance staff would also refuse to carry out some aspects of ?roadside? care, which would lead to more people being treated in hospitals, and a longer response time.
Mr Salmon said: ?Even people who are not militants, who would never consider strike action in the past, are really furious about what has happened and have signalled their intention to act.?
A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: ?Every ambulance service employee is involved in the pay review process. It is therefore inevitable, given the enormity of the undertaking that differences of opinion will exist on reaching the ultimate aim of ensuring fair pay and the harmonisation of conditions.?
At Birmingham International Airport, union officials have already pencilled in a series of walkouts over an eight-week period. The dispute centres on two members of staff sacked after allegations of unauthorised absence from work, falsification of records and breaches of trust.
More than 90 per cent of Amicus members in the highway services department of Birmingham City Council have warned of action over plans to transfer their jobs to a private company.