1996: what does it hold in store?

Electronic cash, the return of Slade - and strikes, war against the motor car, and a scandal over Arts Council grants. Our specialists predict
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MINISTERS will find it increasingly difficult to keep the lid on inflation as employees seek to make up for a long period of austerity.

A possible Labour election victory in 18 months' time will undermine the Government's authority as the year wears on and unions throughout industry will try to take advantage of it. Expect more strikes in both public and private sectors.

Average wage rises are likely to increase from the present 3 per cent to more than 4 per cent by the end of the year. As pay claims rise, Conservative politicians will warn of the dangers of voting Labour. They will refer to the mounting aspirations of public sector workers in particular and cast doubt on Tony Blair's ability to deal with them.

Annual union conferences and the TUC congress will take on a new importance as Labour seeks to ensure that its affiliates do not rock the pre-election boat. Tensions will emerge, however, between the party leadership and activists.

Public-service union Unison, merged out of the old Nalgo, Nupe and Cohse unions, is likely to become Labour's biggest affiliate. Expect more union mergers, including renewed interest in one between the Transport & General and the GMB to produce Britain's biggest union, overtaking Unison.