Unions representing more than a million civil servants and council workers yesterday warned of looming strikes over pay which could plunge the country into an autumn of discontent.
On the eve of Gordon Brown's first speech to the TUC as Prime Minister, leaders of some of the country's biggest unions made it clear that co-ordinated industrial action could be held unless bitter disputes over pay and jobs are resolved.
The Public and Commercial Services union and Unison could be embroiled in bitter strike campaigns unless the Government moves quickly to tackle unrest across the public sector.
The PCS will today announce the result of a ballot among workers at the Department for Work and Pensions which the union believes will reject a pay offer and lead to a strike.
All 270,000 members of the union are likely to vote on industrial action by the end of the month because of below inflation pay offers and compulsory redundancy threats, said general secretary Mark Serwotka.
He told a press conference in Brighton, where the TUC Congress opens today, that civil servants believed they had been "kicked in the teeth" by the Government.
The union has just completed a huge consultation of its members which showed they were prepared to "stand up" to protest over pay and jobs.
"If the Government wants to avoid disruptive industrial action then they need to give guarantees on jobs and services and begin valuing their own workforce with fair and decent pay," he said.
Mr Serwotka said the prospects of industrial action later in the autumn were "very high" because of pay offers which he said would freeze the pay of many civil servants next year.
Asked if there was a change in tone since Mr Brown became Prime Minister, the union leader said: "The tone seems different but the lyrics are identical."
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said 800,000 local government members of his union were now moving to a strike ballot in a bid to improve a 2.47 per cent pay offer.
He said public sector unions should work together to co-ordinate pay claims, and their response to pay offers, in future years.
He called on the Government to "see sense" over public sector pay and treat workers with "dignity."
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, which is also balloting its 70,000 council members on pay, said the govern-ment's position was "not good enough."
Union officials dismissed comments by Business and Enterprise Secretary John Hutton that Labour's relationship with the unions was not "set in concrete" and that the Government did not want to go forward by "going into little huddles and smoke-filled rooms" to make deals at party conferences.
Mr Prentis said: "He has dug out the same speech for the last four years - he is out on a limb.