Struggling workers have this year suffered the worst wage growth in nearly half a century, unions’ chiefs revealed.
And as industrial action grows across the country, No10 was accused of deliberately scuppering pay deals to pick a fight with those trying to improve poor wages.
Yesterday trains stood empty in depots on the first day of a 48-hour strike by rail workers and undelivered mail piled up at sorting offices ahead of a walkout today by staff.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady claimed the Tories were using the battle with the unions to mask their own incompetent handling of the economy.
She said: “I have a strong suspicion that if you wanted to run down our NHS, our education system, our public services this is the way to go about it.
“They don’t want us talking about the root cause of this.
“They don’t want us talking about the mess they have made of the economy. They have messed up big time and are picking a fight with us to distract from the fact that they are useless.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham agreed. She added: “It has to be deliberate.”
Fed-up staff across many sectors are preparing strike action, including nurses, traffic officers at National Highways, examiners at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, security staff at Eurostar and bus drivers.
They are furious No10 refuses to budge on giving out pay rises as low as 4%.
With inflation running at around 11%, that means millions of staff are getting real-term wage cuts.
Those in the public sector among those suffering the most.
According to the Office for National Statistics, average wage growth stood at 6.1% between August and October.
But that masked an average 6.9% rise for those in the private sector, and just 2.7% increase for public sector workers. Things have not been this bad since 1977.
Ms O’Grady said support among workers for industrial action was growing all the time, as many people are now struggling with the cost of living crisis and stagnating pay.
She added: “I have never seen such determination from workers.
“I have never seen so many working people backing each other.”
Ms O’Grady and Ms Graham were among leaders of seven major unions who combined for a Mirror summit to discuss the reasons behind the biggest wave of industrial action since the late 1980s.
RMT chief Mick Lynch, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan, RCN boss Pat Cullen, University and College Union head Jo Grady and National Education Union joint leader Kevin Courtney made up the rest of the panel.
Mr Lynch, whose union has another series of strikes planned later this week and over Christmas, vowed: “We will see this through to the end.”
He accused the Government of not being truthful over the pay and conditions for rail staff. And Mr Lynch added: “They are incompetent and they are telling lies.”
Mr Whelan echoed others by claiming the Tories’ fight with unions was “ideological”.
Ms Graham said: “People are sick of being conned.”
The Government and private sector bosses have claimed there is not the money for proper pay rises.
But Ms Grady said universities, for example, had £40billion in reserves.
Mr Courtney said teachers had endured a 24% real terms cut in pay since the Tories came to power in 2010 because wages have failed to keep pace with inflation.
The summit also called on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to be “more vocal” when it came to the strikes. Earlier, Mr Lynch accused the BBC of being biased in its coverage of the rail workers’ strikes and “parroting” the right-wing press.
He also clashed with Good Morning Britain host Richard Madeley, accusing him of ranting.
Fears are growing the postal strike could hit Christmas deliveries.
Photos taken on Monday and yesterday at a Bristol sorting office show the same heaps of undelivered mail. A total of 10 days of strikes have been planned by the Communication Workers’ Union.
More than 115,000 members will walk out in coming days. Royal Mail insists the scenes of post piling up are “typical at this time of year”. But the CWU have said they are “highly unusual” and “chaotic”.
A union spokesman said: “The CWU and postal workers want to save Christmas but Royal Mail must step back from their all-out assault on our members’ jobs, terms and the service they provide.”
Royal Mail said: “We are doing all we can to deliver Christmas for our customers and minimise the impact of damaging industrial action.