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."
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".
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."