Why Earthworker Co-operative?
“The trade union movement has long been at the forefront of innovation in making the world a more liveable place for all Victorians, all Australians. We’re not just talking about a solar hot water heater … we are talking about looking at the way we run our lives, the way we run our planet, and taking some control over our own actions.”
(Jacob Grech, Earthworker team)
What we produce, the way we produce it (and where we produce it) has either positive or negative impacts on our health and our broader global ecosystem. Earthworker Co-operative is concerned that we need more wealth-creating and sustainable manufacturing jobs in Australia to support people and planet.
That is why Earthworker Co-operative, aims to grow green manufacturing to make renewable products in Australia. Earthworker will do this by building union-supported, worker-owned and controlled co-operatives manufacturing solar hot water units units, and ultimately the full range of green technologies. This will begin a new stage in Australia’s labour movement history, which will see it return to a vision of a better world and not merely a bigger share of this one at the expense of others.
Vision, Primary Activity and Active Membership
The Earthworker Co-Operative Vision is to develop the social sector of the Australian economy based on co-operative principles in sustainable production.
The Primary Activity (mission) of the Earthworker Co-operative is to facilitate the establishment of worker co-operatives – manufacturing renewable energy technologies, initially solar hot water systems, throughout regional Australia and specifically in Australian coal regions.
Earthworker Active Membership requires:
- contribution towards the establishment of the manufacturing co-operatives through assisting the co-operative in attracting new Earthworker Co-operative members; and/or,
- provision of financial assistance to the worker co-operatives through the purchase of shares; and/or,
- provision of assistance with marketing and any other forms of support required by the manufacturing co-operatives.
To remain an Earthworker, members must actively support the co-operative as specified in the above areas.
Practically, Earthworker is committed to:
- Local job creation (and opportunities for Indigenous Australians)
- Quality education and training in manufacturing for young people
- A proportion of surplus provided for social justice projects
- Provision of quality housing, childcare, health, education and other social products for the co-operative workforce
- A community-based answer to ‘free trade’ agreements that can negatively impact Australian jobs, communities, farmers and small-to-medium businesses.
The first goal of the Earthworker Co-operative is to establish a worker-owned factory in Morwell (Eureka’s Future); which will produce solar hot water units that will be able to be purchased by individuals or collectively through Enterprise Bargaining Agreements at workplaces across Australia.
Earthworker Co-operative has the factory lined up in Morwell; what we need now is the money for factory equipment and other expenses related to the project.
100,000 Australians Campaign
You can join Earthworker and be a part of the ‘100,000 Australians Campaign’ for this purpose. We need 100,000 members to raise the money to establish Eureka’s Future – the first of many worker-owned and run Australian co-operatives.
How the Earthworker model works
Earthworker Co-operative will support the establishment of Eureka’s Future worker co-operative to manufacture solar hot water (SHW) systems. Eureka’s Future will be the first Earthworker Co-operative and will be the model for future Earthworker Co-operatives.
The Earthworker business model
Through Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) negotiated between unions and employers, workers can negotiate for SHW systems as part of their wage outcome in the EBA. This facilitates the collective purchase of goods by workers, enabling them to start bringing their cost of living down by the use of solar power; cutting carbon emissions; and supporting Australian manufacturing jobs that never leave our shores. The surplus from the sale of Eureka’s Future Co-operative SHW systems will be distributed in a number of ways:
- An incentive will be paid to unions and employers for opening their EBA in a way which provides a better-than-cash arrangment to workers
- Money will return to the Earthworker Co-operative (and future Eureka’s Future co-operative) to pay wages, invest in more work, and fund research and development
- A further 5% will go towards social justice projects.
In 2007 Earthworker commissioned a feasibility study which showed that 5.8% of Victorian union members have solar hot water systems. Victoria has 452,800 trade union members with relatively high levels of home ownership and purchasing power.
For the first two years, there are three target markets for the Earthworker Co-operative solar hot water (SHW) system – members of Victorian trade unions, members of environmental organisations in Australia, and the local community in the Latrobe City municipality. There is also some real interest from the church and faith based communities in Victoria. Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) between unions and employers will be the primary means for distribution of the goods and services.
Latrobe City has 27,284 households, as represented by occupied dwellings and the vast majority of these households use electric storage hot water. From 2011/2012, all of the electric hot water systems will need to be replaced with solar hot water systems or gas systems to meet regulatory requirements. Very few of these households are currently installing solar hot water systems as represented by less than 1% of households receiving available rebates in 2008/09.
Helping Earthworker grow – finance and support
Earthworker will provide finance, assistance with marketing strategy, research and development, and networking to a new social sector of the Australian economy. Earthworker will be a powerful force for the collective good, on behalf of its member organisations: co-operatives, unions, shire councils, faith-based organisations and individuals.
Earthworker is developing a finance wing with Australian credit union MECU. As the social sector and its factories grow in numbers, we will invite superannuation funds to partner with Earthworker to provide the critical social capital required for a successful and powerful social sector of the Australian economy. This new social sector will be based on the manufacturing of our renewable energy needs.
“Co-operation involves empathizing with others, putting our egos in their proper place and feeling connectedness and responsibility to others… to be a good co-operator you have to avoid many of the deadly sins – like pride and greed.” (Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive, NESTA)
Earthworker has been endorsed by the peak body of trade unions in Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The leadership of the Earthworker is drawn primarily from the union movement with strong links to the community (including faith-based and environmental groups).
A significant Earthworker friend is Dandenong manufacturer, Everlast, a loyal and active partner that will provide the product, assistance with the fit-out and finish of Eureka’s Future Co-operative factory, and training of the first workforce, in return for a royalty.
Also significant is the Earthworker relationship with Douglas Solar, a long standing Australian company that is providing Earthworker with an approved system configuration and will support in training the system assemblers and installers.
The ideas behind the Earthworker project date back to an Earthworker initiative from the 1990s. It was through this initiative that unionist Dave Kerin met Bob Higginson, founder, innovator and former Chief Executive of Everlast (now deceased). Bob and Dave shared a vision for manufacturing solar hot water systems through small, cooperatively run factories. These ideas were later thoroughly explored with representatives of trade unions AMWU, ETU and CEPU (Plumbers); coordinated by the Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd.
In 2009 the Victorian CFMEU Mining and Energy Division decided to get behind the project as a means of creating new employment for people in Morwell in the Latrobe Valley. This significant development established a concrete basis for our business plan, establishing an owner for the project as well as clarifying the location for the enterprise to be established.
Earthworker gains new partnerships
In 2012 the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania (Culture and Context Unit) decided to help the Earthworker campaign by providing ongoing advice and support for the project. In 2013 a membership levy from Maritime Union of Australia members in Victoria will provide much need funds for project development and administration.
Also in 2012 EQubed, a Social Justice Mission of the Anglican Parish of Dallas/Broadmeadows and part of the Anglicare National Network, has been assisting us with fundraising advice.
Find out more about co-operatives
Check out more about why we have chosen the co-operative business structure in our section about Eureka’s Future workers co-operative.