Postal workers threatened to stage a fresh wave of strikes yesterday as unions backed "co-ordinated action" over pay which could bring industrial strife to large sections of the public services.
TUC delegates meeting in Brighton overwhelmingly supported demands for industrial action by public service unions in protest at below-inflation pay deals. Union leaders agreed to hold immediate talks between public-sector unions to co-ordinate action amid growing anger at the Government's 2 per cent ceiling on wage demands.
Meanwhile the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said Royal Mail staff would walk out before the end of the month unless their long-running dispute over pay and working conditions was resolved.
Anger also boiled over on the conference floor as Peter Hain, the Work and Pensions Secretary, was ambushed by GMB members protesting at threatened job cuts at Remploy factories, which give jobs to disabled workers. Activists invaded the stage during Mr Hain's speech to hand him redundancy quotations sent to workers.
The threat of renewed postal strikes came after civil service and local government unions warned of industrial action against pay offers they insist represent wage cuts for hundreds of thousands of low-paid public servants.
The Public and Commercial Services Union has threatened to ballot its members on strikes across the Civil Service, while Unison, the giant public sector union, is balloting local government workers on action.
Steve Cox, from the Prison Officers' Association, said: "No one wants a repeat of the winter of 1978, but if the Government continues down the road and ignores the warning signs and shuts the door in our face we will be left with no alternative and we should all be out on the streets."
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: "We know that central government workers are not alone; staff in the NHS, education, local government and Royal Mail are all being asked to accept reductions in their standards of living as a consequence of the Treasury's 2 per cent limit. I cannot believe that any trade unionist finds that acceptable.
"If the movement is serious about it, we can find common timetables for action. Immediately after congress we should convene a meeting to draw up concrete plans for joint action with those who are ready, but involve all of those who may want to take action further down the line."
The CWU warned it was prepared to announce fresh strikes after talks with Royal Mail managers ended without agreement. Union leaders are unhappy with plans to change pension arrangements and shift patterns. The union has agreed to continue talks with the Royal Mail but warned that strikes will be held before the end of the month if no agreement is reached soon.
A Royal Mail spokesman said: "We have been negotiating with the CWU over pay and flexibility since March 2007. Royal Mail can no longer delay the next steps in modernising the business to enable it to compete on an equal footing with other operators and will now begin to make the changes which have been discussed for many months."