Battle lines are drawn
The leader of Britain's largest public sector union has announced the start of what looks sure to be a long and bloody battle over cuts to services and jobs.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis yesterday urged his 1.3 million members to embark on a nationwide campaign of resistance.
He told his union's annual conference in Bournemouth that "if this government picks a fight with us, we will be ready, we will be the fiercest defenders of our members and the services they deliver".
"The next four years will test our resolve," Mr Prentis said, "but they won't know what hit them."
I have recently returned from Nottingham where the fighting is under way. City and county councils have already announced plans for £100m cuts and 2,000 job losses between them. The battle lines have been drawn.
Some Unison workers are currently working to rule over changes to terms and conditions and, as I stood in the union's city HQ, workers were stuffing envelopes for a ballot on possible strike action.
Protesters and placards have become a familiar sight in the city centre. When services for deaf people were threatened, angry demonstrators lay across the city's tram lines.
I met grass-roots campaigners around the kitchen table fighting plans to sell off council care homes and middle-class ladies on a Nottinghamshire village green protesting at a decision to close their local library.
It is a glimpse of the future. We won't know exactly how deep the axe will strike until the autumn, but today's BBC survey suggests council leaders are planning for the worst.
They know that two-and-a-half billion pounds in transport projects may well be cancelled: bypasses, bridges, rail-lines and rural bus routes.
Hundreds of millions due to have been spent on school buildings have been shelved. The plug may be pulled on plans for two new hospitals in Liverpool.
Millions are being cut from police budgets across England. Social housing schemes are in doubt. Many of the councils who responded to the BBC said they had plans to save on social care - services for the elderly and disabled, child mental health and respite for carers.
Local government leaders say they are doing what they must do, but unions claim the plans amount to a vicious attack on services and jobs.
Nottinghamshire's council leader is the aptly named Kay Cutts, a Conservative who has already pledged to slice £86m from the county budget.
"After 28 years of Labour administrations, it had got a bit flabby," she told me. "They weren't bad people," she continued, "but they hadn't actually looked at the services that we needed to have."
With a portrait of Margaret Thatcher hanging above her desk, there was more than an echo of the Iron Lady in what she said. "There is no alternative," she said.
"You see this as an opportunity?" I asked. "No, I see this as a necessity," Mrs Cutts replied. "Generally speaking, whenever we ask members of the public what they think, they say the public sector is too large."
Whether driven by ideology or pragmatism, the public sector looks certain to become significantly smaller. The Labour-controlled Nottingham City Council is also having to make cuts, a situation which political campaigners on the left think plays into their hands.
I attended a Socialist Party meeting in a community centre, packed with activists young and old. "It's come back again to a class war," said one veteran of the movement. "If we have wave after wave of industrial action we can stop the cuts," claimed another. "We do need to bring about something on the lines of what's happened in Greece where we take to the streets," it was suggested to applause.
It appears that old political fault lines may be re-opening as passion and anger rise to the surface. What is starting to unravel in Nottingham today, may be repeated in many more communities tomorrow.
Update, 13:22: I am informed that one of two PFI hospital schemes in Liverpool which had been under threat is confident that it will still go ahead. The Alder Hey Children's Health Park Project says NHS officials gave it the thumbs up to "go to market" last October.