© PA
Not true: The Education Secretary said it was a 'myth' that he wanted to force every teacher to stay in the classroom until they were 68
  • Education Secretary says hardliners are 'itching for a fight'
  • Labour leader Ed Miliband says he does not support strikes because they were 'always a sign of failure'
  • At least 90% of schools due to close and airport chaos expected
  • Army on standby to deal with impact of 2m workers striking on Wednesday
Hardline trade union leaders were yesterday accused of a deliberate attempt to sabotage the economic recovery as they threatened a programme of industrial action to continue throughout next year.

In the strongest ministerial attack on the unions for a generation, Education Secretary Michael Gove blamed the strike on 'militants' who were 'itching for a fight' - and warned more than nine in ten schools will be closed as a result of tomorrow's walkout of up to two million workers.

'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,' Mr Gove said.

Officials confirmed that troops and uniformed police officers will be drafted in to help maintain the security of Britain's borders when immigration staff join the walkout over public sector pension reforms.

Airlines have cancelled some flights in and out of Heathrow tomorrow in anticipation of queues of up to 12 hours at passport controls.

Dave Prentis, leader of public sector trade union Unison, said there was 'absolutely no chance' of reaching a deal in the next few days, claiming: 'It could be the biggest action since the 1926 General Strike.'

As David Cameron warned union leaders their protest was futile, Mr Gove said he did not know of any pension scheme in the private sector that would match the deal being offered to public sector workers.

He said it was 'unfair and unrealistic' to expect taxpayers to keep on footing the bill for pension schemes of which private sector workers can only dream, warning: 'If we don't reach agreement, then change will have to be imposed.'

'Among those union leaders are people who fight hard for their members and whom I respect. But there are also hardliners - militants itching for a fight,' Mr Gove said.

'They want families to be inconvenienced. They want mothers to give up a day's work, or pay for expensive childcare, because schools will be closed.

'They want teachers and other public sector workers to lose a day's pay in the run-up to Christmas.'
© Getty Images
Everybody out: Workers march through central Bristol this summer. Public sector workers have been warned that a pensions offer will be withdrawn if there is no agreement by the end of the year

Mr Gove singled out Mark Serwotka, head of the biggest civil service union PCS, and Unite's Len McCluskey and Andrew Murray as union leaders for whom 'militant is a badge that fits'.

He also signalled the Government is considering changes to strike laws to give headteachers more notice of whether they would be able to keep their schools open.

At present, individuals are not obliged to inform their school that they intend to join the walkout until the day of the industrial action.

Mr Prentis said tomorrow's action would be the start of a devastating series of walkouts, with 'further action in the new year' if the Government does not back down.

In all, 29 unions are taking part in the one-day walkout, having balloted about 2.6million members.

But any further action could escalate if the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing decide to take part. Their members are not taking action tomorrow, but both unions have suggested strike ballots remain an option.

A PCS spokesman dismissed government claims made on Monday that leader Mr Serwotka had not engaged properly in negotiations.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has been under pressure to use his party's links to the unions to call for the strike to be called off, said: 'Strikes are always a sign of failure but I'm not going to demonise the people who are taking the action.'

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman told reporters at a regular daily press briefing: 'Our position throughout has been that to go ahead with a strike when talks are ongoing - and they are ongoing - is irresponsible.

'Our view is that the offer we have put on the table is a good one and a fair one, both for public sector workers and for taxpayers.'

Widespread disruption is expected.

The spokesman confirmed that a message has been sent out to Whitehall civil servants - including staff at 10 Downing Street - asking them whether they will be able to help provide cover for striking border officials at airports and ports, but declined to go into details about what the response was.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said it was increasingly clear that militant union leaders had 'set off down this path months ago' and were determined to press ahead regardless of what the Government offered or the miserable turnouts in strike ballots.

He said: 'This is a very irresponsible set of strikes. Britain, at a very fragile time in its economy, is going to be dealt a serious blow if these strikes go ahead in the way that has been described.

'What we've said from the absolute outset when we put this new offer on the table, which is a generous offer, is that most people in the workforce in the private sector would give their eye teeth to have a pension scheme as good as what these will continue to be.

'We have said there needs to be agreement on the main elements by the end of this year, and if there isn't we absolutely reserve the right to take those elements off the table.'

Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne accused Labour of inflaming the situation by peddling 'misinformation'.

'Ed Balls was saying that people earning under £15,000 are having to pay more. We've explicitly excluded people on very low salaries from paying more contributions for their pensions,' he said.

'What I am trying to do is give them a good, decent pension for many, many years to come - much better than you could get if you were in the private sector.'