Gordon Brown received a lukewarm response from the TUC conference after he warned in his first speech to the unions as Prime Minister that inflation-busting pay rises would risk a return to a "boom and bust" economy.
Mr Brown, who has traditionally been more popular with the trade unions than his predecessor, Tony Blair, tried to woo the TUC by pledging to create an extra 500,000 jobs to ensure "a British job for every British worker", to double the number of apprentices to 500,000 by 2020 and to ensure a tougher enforcement of the national minimum wage.
But his 30-minute speech to the Brighton conference fell flat after he delivered an uncompromising message over public sector pay. Mr Brown said that if inflation were allowed to get out of control, there would be a return to spiralling prices, high unemployment, a mortgage crisis and public spending cuts. To avoid that, the Government would always put stability first.
He told the TUC: "No loss of discipline, no resort to the easy options, no unaffordable promises, no taking risks with inflation, so let me be straightforward with you: pay discipline is essential to prevent inflation, to maintain growth and create more jobs. We can only create thousands more jobs and move faster to full employment if, having defeated inflation in the last 10 years, we continue to defeat inflation in the next 10."
Rising anger over the Government's stance was illustrated when, just two hours later, the biggest civil service union announced it would ballot its members on industrial action.
The Public and Commercial Services Union announced that 75 per cent of its 90,000 members at the Department of Work and Pensions had rejected a 4 per cent pay rise over three years. Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: "Unless the Government now comes to the table, the union will ballot its entire civil service membership on industrial action by the end of this month."
Other union leaders reacted coolly to Mr Brown's speech. Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the biggest union Unite said: "If we are to see the quality public services all of us want, then you have to respect, value and pay the workers who deliver them."
Dave Prentis, the leader of Unison, said: "Perhaps he hasn't yet gauged the real feeling of public service workers having to bear the brunt of government cost-cutting."