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A weakened public infrastructure is like a house with termites, Dr. Linda Rae Murray told delegates. It may look good on the outside but inside everything is crumbling.

That’s why unions are so important, the co-chief medical officer for the Cook County, Illinois, ambulatory and community health network said. Democratic, militant trade unions have the power to hold government accountable for the common good.

Without unions people don’t learn to band together for change, Murray said. Yet, only 30 per cent of Canadian workers are unionized.

“Our job is to organize the other 70 per cent,” she said, “because no major progress has occurred without the active involvement of the trade union movement.”

Within that movement public sector workers have a special role and responsibility: we fight against contracting out and privatization, not only to defend our jobs, but for the common good.

“Our job,” Murray added, “is to make our neighbours and friends understand that they are a lot better off standing next to us than alone. We stand on the front lines of this battle; our interests are the interests of the people.”

Where else but in trade unions do you learn to write a leaflet, organize a meeting, build a website? she asked. Where else do everyday people learn how to band together and fight for change?

“It is in democratic trade unions that we learn how to organize, to win and, sometimes, how to lose, regroup and come back again. The essence of trade unions stands in opposition to insane individualism,” Murray said.

“We are the best single weapons that human beings have.”