Brendan Barber, leader of the trade union TUC, has urged the Government to use the Olympics as a guide for managing the UK economy.

As he prepares to talk at the TUC’s annual Congress this week in Brighton, his last as General Secretary before being replaced by Frances O’Grady next year (the first woman to fill the role), he will say the success of British athletes funded by public money shows “private isn’t always best and the market doesn’t always deliver”.

In his speech, Mr Barber will say it is wrong of the Government to say it “can’t pick winners” in helping companies and instead leaving the market to decide.

He will add:

“Markets always trump planning, they say. Well look at the Olympic Park, the result of years of careful planning and public investment.

“Private is always better than public, they argue. Not true, as we saw all too clearly when it came to Olympic security.

“Those summer weeks were a time when we really were all in it together. Not because we were told to be. But because we wanted to be. Athletes, workers, volunteers, spectators, residents, communities – all pulling together.

“The same spirit we have just seen during the Paralympics. And as we reflect on the wonderful achievements of our disabled athletes, let us not squander the potential of disabled workers.”

He will also criticise the coalition’s spending cuts programme by saying:

“It’s clear that austerity simply isn’t working. There has been no growth since the Government came to power over two years ago. In effect the economy has become a gigantic laboratory.”

Barber has also told BBC Radio 4’s Today that there may be more strike action by public sector workers, despite dismissing talks of a general strike.

Unison and the GMB, two of the UK’s biggest trade unions, have already revealed that they are planning for co-ordinated strikes unless the Government suspends its public sector pay freeze.

At a press conference at the Brighton Centre, Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said:

“I’ve no doubt whatsoever that, if we cannot talk to this Government and negotiate agreement to end the pay freeze, it will lead to industrial action.”

He added that union members were “afraid” for their financial futures, with some “not buying clothes for their children” because of their circumstances.

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny said:

“It’s time for politicians to treat public sector workers with respect, rather than slagging them off. There comes a point when people say they have had enough.”

He added: “People are getting sick of being treated as political footballs.”

Ministers say holding down public sector pay will save £3.3bn a year, which they argue is vital to reducing the budget deficit.

In other news, membership of TUC-affiliated unions is now at 5.98 million, fewer than half the number 30 years ago.

By the end of the 1970s 12 million workers were part of a union, peaking at 12.2 million in 1980.

Membership has fallen under successive Governments, following the tightening up of legislation and the decline of traditional manufacturing industries.

The TUC has said that the recent drop in membership is a direct result of job cuts in the public sector.

Some, however, will see the decline as evidence that unions have become less relevant.

Ruth Porter of the Institute for Economic affairs said:

“Since the 1980s, when the unions lost their privileged position, they have struggled to reinvent themselves.

“A focus on campaigning for special treatment for their members through striking has made unions increasingly irrelevant. Their action over public sector pension reform is a good example of this.”