Britain's biggest union threatened to disrupt the London Olympics last night as part of its battle against cuts to public sector pensions.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, urged other unions opposing the Coalition's pension plans and George Osborne's austerity measures to target the Olympics.
In a dramatic escalation of the dispute, he also called on the public to back the unions by engaging in "all forms of civil disobedience within the law" – including during the Games.
He said: "If there is a protest, then the purpose of protest is to bring your grievances to the attention of as many people as possible."
His intervention came three months after a day of action by major unions, who say their members will have to work longer for smaller pensions and make larger contributions. A further day of protests is planned by some unions on 28 March. Ministers say the current pension arrangements are unsustainable and will still leave public sector workers better off than employees of private companies.
But Mr McCluskey said: "The attacks that are being launched on public sector workers at the moment are so deep and ideological that the idea the world should arrive in London and have these wonderful Olympic Games as though everything is nice and rosy in the garden is unthinkable."
He told The Guardian: "The unions, and the general community, have got every right to be out protesting. If the Olympics provide us with an opportunity, then that's exactly one that we should be looking at."
He said no decisions had been reached and said "it would be nice if we were able not to disrupt such a prestigious event as the Olympics". But he added: "People have to understand that we are fighting for our heritage here. Our parents and our grandparents, having defeated fascism in Europe, came back determined to build a land fit for heroes. They gave us the welfare state, the National Health Service, universal education. All of that is being attacked."
His comments will cause dismay for the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who urged both sides of the dispute to get round the negotiating table. The Conservative chairman, Baroness Warsi, said: "I am shocked that Unite would sink so low as to spoil this great national event for everyone else. Ed Miliband must order his union cronies to rule out disrupting the Olympics."
Leaders of London Underground workers also declared a dispute yesterday after failing to reach a deal with over payment for working during the Olympic Games. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union has rejected an offer of up to £500 for Tube staff.