Ed Miliband has failed to back Wednesday's planned public sector strikes, calling them a "sign of failure".
“Strikes are always a sign of failure but I’m not going to demonise the people who are taking the action", the Labour leader told the BBC.
More than 2 million public sector workers are expected to participate in walk-outs on Wednesday. As a result of the action, schools will be closed and non-emergency NHS operations cancelled.
But in a marked change of tone, Miliband said to ministers that the government held "primary responsibility" if the strikes go ahead.
"Why are they [public sector workers] taking the action? Because they’re facing, for example a 3% tax rise on low-paid public sector workers.”
And Miliband criticised Michael Gove who this morning accused union bosses of wanting to derail economic recovery.
“My criticism is of the Government, that is just ramping up the rhetoric. All they’ve been doing is ramping up the rhetoric in relation to this action. And we hear it again apparently today from Michael Gove.
"All we hear is them shouting from the rooftops – what they should actually be doing is getting round the table. Ministers haven’t actually met people since the beginning of November.”
Miliband may have spoken out against the strikes but his former shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, has supported the trade unions.