Militants "itching for a fight" are the driving force behind tomorrow's mass strike over pensions, the Education Secretary claimed yesterday.
In comments likely to further inflame tensions between the Government and public sector workers, Michael Gove said some union leaders wanted "families to be inconvenienced" and "mothers to give up a day's work or pay for expensive childcare because schools will be closed".
"They want scenes of industrial strife on our TV screens, they want to make economic recovery harder: they want to provide a platform for confrontation just when we all need to pull together," he added.
Speaking at the Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank, Mr Gove said there were union leaders calling for strike action who fought hard for their members and "whom I respect". "But there are also hardliners, itching for a fight," he added.
Asked who these were, he named three prominent trade unionists – Len McCluskey and Andrew Murray of Unite, and Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union. "Militant is a badge that fits for all of those three," he said.
His comments angered union leaders, but the three individuals he named refused to be drawn into a personal row when contacted by The Independent.
Mr Gove also said that the number of schools expected to close would be "north of 90 per cent", which amounts to more than 20,000 in England. A further 3,000 could also shut in Wales. "I must warn parents that many schools are going to close – the overwhelming majority," he said. But he defended headteachers forced to close their schools, saying that "the sheer numbers of those striking" meant that they had no choice.