Up to a million people are expected to take part in a nationwide strike on Thursday, as workers take to the streets in protest about the public sector pay freeze and falling living standards.
Care workers, refuse collectors, librarians and dinner ladies will be joined by teachers, firefighters and civil servants in what is expected to be the UK's biggest round of industrial action for three years.
Frances O'Grady, the TUC general secretary, said low-paid workers had borne the brunt of the financial crisis and the government's subsequent austerity drive – and were still not benefiting from the fledgling recovery.
"The economy may be picking up, but having paid the price in pay freezes and below-inflation pay increases for several years, there is to be no financial let up for town-hall employees and other public sector workers. For them there are no shares to be had in the UK's economic recovery. Instead, several more years of penny-pinching and frugal living lie ahead."
Union leaders say more than 1 million workers were balloted ahead of Thursday's industrial action and that there will be more than 50 marches and rallies across England and Wales including a protest that will end in a rally in Trafalgar Square, London. There will also be scores of picket lines at schools, council offices, depots and fire stations across England and Wales.
O'Grady said: "In local government – and right across the public sector – workers believe that ministers neither care about nor understand the pressures on their already stretched household budgets. Meanwhile, the government seems happy for the public purse to miss out on billions through income tax cuts for the wealthy and corporation tax reductions for big businesses, yet says there's no money to give a decent pay rise to struggling care assistants, nursery workers, dinner ladies and other local authority employees."
On Wednesday, the TUC published research showing that since the coalition took office, local government workers, NHS staff, teachers, firefighters, civil servants and other public servants were on average £2,245 worse off in real terms.
O'Grady said: "It won't have been an easy decision for hard-pressed public sector workers to vote to lose a day's pay this week, nor will they take delight in any disruption caused to the public. But if the government continues to hold down pay, our public services will struggle to hold on to and recruit skilled and dedicated staff. When that happens, we all pay the price."
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants and is joining Thursday's strike, said: "Wages are falling further behind the cost of living and in the last four years some civil servants have seen their income fall by 20%. Unequal pay is also rife, with some paid thousands of pounds less than their colleagues doing similar work, and women paid up to 14% less than men."
He said the "meagre economic recovery" was only benefiting the better off. "We need an alternative to cuts where we invest in public services to help our economy to grow, where jobs are created, not cut, and where we clamp down on the corporate tax dodgers who deprive our economy of tens of billions of pounds a year."
The National Union of Teachers is also taking part in the industrial action. Christine Blower, the NUT general secretary, said her members "deeply regretted" going on strike, but that they had little option after months of talks aimed at addressing growing concerns over pay, pensions and conditions of service had failed.
"Teacher morale is at a low ebb. Thousands of good, experienced teachers are leaving or considering leaving their job and a teacher shortage crisis is looming. Ofsted itself says that two in five teachers are leaving the profession in their first five years. This is a very serious state of affairs and is a direct result of this government's policies."
She added: "The fact that teachers are prepared to take strike action is an indication of the strength of feeling and anger about the government's imposed changes. The profession is on its knees. Strike action is a last resort but, due to the intransigence of the coalition government, it is one which we cannot avoid. Unless our concerns are addressed, education will suffer, teacher shortages will worsen and morale in schools will drop even further. [Education secretary] Michael Gove can avoid further disruption by engaging in serious negotiations and making changes to policy."
Firefighters will join the action, going on strike between 10am and 7pm. Matt Wrack, the Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said: "The fact that this government has united so many workers to take strike action against them is a testament to the failure of their policies. They are destroying our public services and wrecking the lives of millions. If they won't listen and won't negotiate then this is the result – and they should face more of the same if necessary."
Original headline: One million public sector workers prepare for nationwide strike
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