The trade unions have today given their support to a new bill that would restore to them all the rights to strike and organise that Margaret Thatcher took away.
The TUC in Brighton passed a motion backing the trade union freedom bill, which has the support of 182 MPs but has yet to be presented to parliament.
"It will give us proper protection for striking workers, fairer balloting procedures, limit the use of injunctions against us and restore the right to solidarity action," argued T&G general secretary Tony Woodley.
The campaigners for the bill, who include Tony Benn and the MP who has challenged Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, John McDonnell, argue that British workers have far fewer rights than their European counterparts.
Among the strongest supporters is the Prison Officers Association (POA), which says it was promised the right to strike by the Labour government but has yet to receive it - leaving their members powerless against employer action.
Speaking in support of the motion today, general secretary Brian Caton warned his members were coming to the end of their tether and had been balloted for strike action against the privatisation of prisons - whether it was legal or not.
"We will support the trade union freedom bill.We will take strike action and if they want to put us in court then bring it on. We will take our trade union rights back," he declared.
However, the general secretary of the First Division Association (FDA) of senior civil servants, Jonathan Baume, warned that the public still remembered the "winter of discontent" in 1978 when unions caused mayhem with their strikes.
"The trade union freedom bill is a dead end. We had our chance 40 years ago and we blew it," he told congress to a few cheers but many more heckles.
He added: "It is time to acknowledge there is no way back to union power.this is a distraction which will not in the end recruit a single extra union member."
But RMT general secretary Bob Crow immediately took to the stage and said Mr Baume sounded like Peter Mandelson. The motion was passed with an overwhelming majority.