The prospect of a fresh wave of strikes by teachers and other public sector workers is increasing amid calls for direct action against government policies.
Members of the two biggest teaching unions will launch a campaign of industrial action short of a strike from September 26, with the threat of walkouts later this year over pay, pensions, jobs and increased workloads.
The general council of the TUC decided to support a call to consider the practicalities of a general strike, which will pile fresh pressure on the coalition in its long-running conflict with millions of public sector workers.
A motion to the TUC Congress from the Prison Officers Association on "far reaching" campaigns, including the prospect of a general strike, is expected to be backed by a majority of delegates.
The Brighton conference has voted in favour of co-ordinating action to win concessions from ministers.
A number of union leaders raised the threat of civil disobedience.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, called for direct action. He told a fringe meeting: "The battle we are going to face means industrial action and people occupying hospitals to keep them open. If communities fight back and occupy schools and hospitals to keep them open, we should support them. In the early years of the Thatcher government we occupied the hospitals. That's the sort of thing we should be demanding.
"When they want to close down a youth centre, when they want to close down a school or a hospital, if communities want to occupy them, we are going to support them."
Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, said marches planned on October 20 against austerity cuts should be the "launch pad" for a sustained campaign.
"We will seek decent pay and we will negotiate but if the attacks continue, we will deliver co-ordinated action," he said.
Mike Clancy of civil service union Prospect warned the Government it faces a "battle" and revealed that plans are already being drawn up for industrial action.
The National Union of Teachers and NASUWT said the aim of the industrial action later this month is not to affect pupils. Teachers will refuse to attend meetings, fill in forms or cover for absent staff.
NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said the action will be followed by strikes if the Government does not deal with teachers' concerns.
"We will keep strike action under consideration and the Government will have to move by half-term at the end of October," he said.
The teachers' pay review body will report back by the end of October on issues such as local pay, and the Government's response will determine the unions' next move, said Mr Courtney.
Teachers will soon start a second year of a pay freeze, followed by a 1% increase for each of the following two years.
Mr Courtney said teachers are not being asked to withdraw from school sports or voluntary activities.
NASUWT and the NUT represent nine out of 10 teachers in England and Wales.
Asked about calls for a general strike against the Government's austerity programme, Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: "Obviously we think that strike action benefits no one."
TUC leader Brendan Barber said the country needs an Olympic-style national crusade to climb out of recession instead of "muddling through".
The general secretary told Congress that lessons should be learned from the Olympics on how to rebuild the economy.
In his final speech to Congress before stepping down at the end of the year, he said that the lessons of this summer are that the private sector is not always best and that the market does not always deliver.
"We can't muddle through greening our economy. We need investment, planning and an Olympic-style national crusade.
"We won't build up industrial strength unless we work out what we do best as a country, whether it's cars, pharmaceuticals, aerospace or the creative industries, and help them do even better.
"And just as the Olympics needed new infrastructure, so does the rest of the country. Not just new transport schemes or energy kit but new schools and colleges to nurture world-class skills and new housing to provide affordable homes and get people back to work.
"So let's build the council housing Britain is desperately crying out for and while we're at it, let's build a new banking infrastructure as well, with a state investment bank, regional banks and a financial transactions tax to fund our national regeneration."
The Government's strategy is failing, the economy is "on its knees" and services are being devastated, Mr Barber told the Brighton conference.
Society is becoming more fractured, with benefits cut for the poor and taxes slashed for the rich, he said.
Parts of Britain have boarded-up high streets and growing numbers of food banks, with the country facing years of stagnation.
"Britain is at a historically important crossroads. The choice we face is clear. In one direction is decline, depression and despair. In the other is recovery, regeneration and renewal."
Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: "During the financial crisis most private sector unions worked responsibly with management and they have saved jobs by doing so. While industries like car manufacturing flourish on the back of a co-operative attitude from their trade unions, it's tragic to see that public sector unions are still committed to disruptive strikes for their own sake."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We are very disappointed that the NUT has chosen to take industrial action. Only a tiny minority of their members voted in favour but it will damage the profession's reputation.
"Parents will be especially concerned that union chiefs have called on their members to only send one school report home a year.
"The NUT and NASUWT are taking industrial action about pay and working conditions before the independent pay review body has made any recommendations."