Labour should "get its act together" and get ready for a general election in 2014, the Unite union's chief has said.

Len McCluskey said the opposition needed to be ready to campaign for a return to power a year ahead of the coalition's schedule ahead of his speech to Unite's policy conference, taking place in Brighton later today.

The union's general secretary put pressure on Labour leader Ed Miliband to offer more specific policies as part of the preparation process. His comments will be seized on by right-wing politicians as further evidence of the unions, who fund the Labour party, seeking to influence its strategy.

"The Labour party would be sensible to prepare for an election," Mr McCluskey said.

"These are extraordinary times – none of us have been here before, no-one knows what is around the corner.

"Anything can happen, but I hope people don't forget the ineptitude of this government and the blame they are trying to put on workers for the economic crisis."

Anger among the public sector workers Unite represents at the coalition's spending cuts agenda has already seen massive strike action.

Mr McCluskey used a BBC interview earlier to warn that further walkouts are "inevitable" given the extent of the public's frustration with the drive for austerity.

"This has to be a long, drawn-out campaign involving – yes – industrial strike action," he said.

"It will manifest itself in more disputes and I think it can only get worse.

"I think it's inevitable in the current crisis, where workers are being asked… to pay the price of the crisis, and where many companies are using the crisis to claw back concessions from workers."

Ed Miliband will address the Unite conference later this week. The leader of the opposition faces a dilemma as he decides whether to endorse Mr McCluskey's strikes agenda.

Doing so could anger many of the Britons who are adversely affected by striking NHS staff, teachers and other public sector workers.

Refusing to offer backing for more walkouts will trigger a hostile response from the union, however.