A campaign of strikes beginning in the spring was called off after an agreement with ministers to avoid "deep and rapid" spending cuts to public sector pensions.
The government had agreed to talks with unions over the future of public sector pensions but ministers had "now accepted that they will force through changes in the June budget".
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said "the government would not have a dialogue with unions and they had to recognize that public spending would be reduced at the cost of workers", he added.
Ministers have not ruled out new laws to prevent coordinated strikes as a "last resort".
Mr. Maude told the BBC any "general strike" would, in any case, be illegal.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison -- which has 1.4 million members employed by the state -- described plans for waves of strike action, with public services shut down on a daily basis, rolling from one region to the next and from sector to sector.
In an interview with the Guardian, Prentis -- who also chairs the public sector group at the TUC -- repeatedly insisted that he still hopes to negotiate a settlement with the government though that now seemed unlikely.
The prospect of a resolution looks increasingly remote after the government unilaterally set out details of the new public sector pension scheme on Friday. Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, called the move "deeply inflammatory".
Mr. Barber said: "Illegal or not, everyone is talking about a general strike".
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said this was the issue on which the big unions were most united.
Prentis said: "I strongly believe that one day of industrial action will not change anyone's mind in government. We want to move towards a settlement. The purpose of industrial action is not industrial action, it is to get an agreement that is acceptable and long lasting. But we are prepared for rolling action over an indefinite period.
Prentis said: unions will mount the most sustained campaign of industrial action the country has seen since the general strike of 1926, vowing not to back down until the government has dropped its controversial pension changes.
The government has confirmed that it will raise pension contributions by 3.2 percentage points, increase the retirement age to 66 and move to a career average scheme to replace the more generous final salary version.
The unions say it amounts to an additional tax on public sector workers, with their additional contributions -- a de facto pay cut -- being used to reduce the deficit rather than fund pensions. It comes on top of job cuts, a pay freeze and controversial plans such as those for the NHS.
Prentis told the Guardian: "You can't just look at what's happening around pensions as a single issue. All our members provide public services. You look at what this coalition has decided to do to reduce the deficit and it's decided that most of the deficit reduction programme will be at the expense of our public services," he said.
"The people that we represent are facing redundancy, a two-year pay freeze, while inflation is 5% and gas prices are going up 20%, and they are desperately worried about privatization of the services they have committed their working lives to."
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