The threat of strikes by police in 1977 could have destroyed the government of James Callaghan, official documents just released have revealed.
James Callaghan was adamant he would not give in to police demands
Ministers feared increasingly militant police officers could break the law banning industrial action.
Strikes were a possibility after the government had imposed a 5% annual pay increase for police, at a time when inflation had jumped to 15%.
Thirty years later, police have come close to striking again over pay.
They have called for the resignation of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith after she refused to backdate a 2.5% pay rise for police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Back in 1977 Mr Callaghan said he would quit "rather than give in to" a strike threat.
In documents released by the National Archives after 30 years, then Home Secretary Merlyn Rees warned a police strike could bring down the government much as the miners' strikes destroyed the Heath government in 1974.
In a bid to avert industrial action the government offered 10%, but the Police Federation came back with a demand for a pay rise worth between 78% and 104%.
In three areas, including Merseyside, there was a danger of all-out strikes, while other parts of the country such as London could see selective action such as bringing the roads to a standstill by refusing to perform traffic duties.
Although senior police officers said an immediate offer of 15% as well as an inquiry into future police pay could "do the trick", Mr Callaghan rejected their stance.
Mr Rees warned strikes were a real danger if 10% was the top offer, saying to Mr Callaghan: "We do not want to let the police be our miners."
The offer was finally accepted by the police and the recommendations of the committee of inquiry, which was set up, led to the establishment of the current police pay arrangements.
An act of Parliament bans police officers from taking strike action because of the critical role they hold in society.