We’re very happy to be reporting to you once again via the Earthworker Newsletter. It’s been some time since our last edition, and a great amount of activity has been underway.
The front line support provided by the HOPE Cooperative remain in high demand, as the Australian Government maintains a callous indifference to the suffering of asylum seekers in the midst of the pandemic. Despite the ongoing uncertainty regarding the control of Covid 19, the Earthworker Energy and Manufacturing Cooperative (EEMC) and the Redgum Cleaning Cooperative are now experiencing unprecedented levels of demand for their products and services. At the same time, significant milestones have been passed in our efforts to ensure cooperative enterprises have a seat at the table in shaping the evolution of the Australian construction and energy sectors.
Earthworker Cooperative arose from the need to create alternative jobs and directions away from the fossil fuel industry in Australia. Within our Australian networks, and through powerful international alliances, we are working to increase the capacity of the cooperative movement to build a jobs-based alternative to climate emergency, species extinction and the growing, global war economy.
As world leaders return home following yet another G7 conference filled with hollow commitments to address the ongoing destruction caused by our greed-based economic system, it is as clear as ever that the change we require must come from below. Cooperatives provide a structure for that change, a blueprint for a humane economy.
If you would like to donate to Earthworker Cooperative you can do so here. Any donations are really appreciated!
So, what’s happening in each of the coops?
Here’s an update, as well as information on how you can support or get involved in each one.
Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative
Earthworker Energy has continued to increase production at the Morwell cooperative factory. We're currently on track to at least double production of our premium solar & heat pump hot water tanks compared to 2020. With increased demand from households, plumbers, and a growing number of commercial customers, we're working towards full-time operations. This means we've started the search for some new factory workers to join the cooperative as worker-members. If you know anyone in the Latrobe Valley who might be interested (particularly anyone with stainless steel tig welding experience), please let them know!
We're also excited to now have a (mostly) solar-powered factory! Thanks to the Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN), we recently had a 17kw solar PV system installed on the factory roof by local solar partner NRGWise. Through GGCN's "Energy Gippsland Renewable Fund", we'll pay off the solar system from the savings on our energy bill via a lease agreement. Lease payments go back into the Renewable Fund (sponsored by the Victorian Government's New Energy Jobs Fund), which in turn will allow other Gippsland organisations to get the same solar benefits. The system is working well so far (even in winter) and we look forward to continuing to reduce the environmental impact of our production line.
In that vein, we're proud that the new recycled plastic outer cases for our tanks (now available in 2 colours) are reducing plastic waste and proving popular with customers. And we're continuing to seek opportunities to develop innovative battery products with GridEdge.
This month we're also saying goodbye to 2 local artists who have been using vacant office and garage space at our factory. We're proud that PollyannaR and Kate Zizys have been able to make fantastic art at our factory. We look forward to following their work and to offering space to other community artists and projects. Speaking of which, we were glad to be the focus in a feature article in local magazine Gippslandia - read it here.
Get in touch if you or your friends have any hot water questions!
Find more information on the EEMC website
Request a Quote for an Earthworker Energy solar or heat pump hot water system
Like and Share about Earthworker Energy on facebook and our new instagram
Redgum Cleaning Cooperative
Like many businesses that managed to survive 2020, Redgum Cleaning Cooperative has been going through a phase of rebuilding.
A number of our members decided to move on to other things (or just move out of the city!) during 2020. When everything reopened, we suddenly had way more work than we could handle. All the clients we couldn’t clean for during lockdowns were clamouring for us to come and scrub their shower screens, but we didn’t have the capacity.
So Redgum has gone on a massive recruitment drive, and our numbers have more than doubled in size since the start of the year, up to 11 this month.
Recruitment for us is a slow and thoughtful process. Because everyone who sticks around in the co-op needs to become a co-owner of the business and participate in decision making, we are interested in more than just how good someone is at wielding a mop.
This year, we’ve been really fortunate to have a great crop of new folks, and have been focussing on our induction and training processes.
Participating in a co-operative workplace is a new experience for the vast majority of people, so it’s really important to help them get oriented. Jena, who joined in February said “the most challenging part of Redgum is how different it is from other workplaces and adjusting my view that I matter in the company rather than being easily replaceable”.
For most people, this shift of perspective comes with a sense of responsibility to help the co-op and your comrades flourish. Learning what this means in practice is an ongoing journey. That’s one reason why being part of Earthworker is so great - we provide each other mutual education and support as we build something that really challenges the status quo.
For me, the most rewarding part of Redgum is the feeling of empowerment, and being able to share it with others. My new Redgum comrades Satya and Miri have said it best:
“My experience in Redgum is great. Interacting with other workers and having regular meetings and working in a team is really good. In my previous workplace I just followed the decision which are already decided by the bosses but in Redgum Coop decisions are made by considering the opinions of the members and voting for it” - Satya
“I now know that work can have dignity and value and worth beyond just the pay, and can be a place of genuine support and encouragement. I’ve never felt this at another workplace, so it’s been amazing to have that with Redgum” - Miri
We’d like to send a sincere thanks to all our clients, supporters and fellow Earthworker members for helping us get through this last year. This work is very meaningful to us, and you make it possible.
Some of us after enjoying a social picnic back in March, 2021
Hope Co-Op has been continuing to support around 15 households of members who have been without any government support over Covid, and who are excluded from all social security, regardless of whether they have work. Hope members takes them a weekly food delivery, thanks to the generous support of Hotham Mission and the remainder of funds we raised for Covid support last year. Three of our member workers are employed to co-ordinate, pack and deliver across these households, also supporting them in their tertiary studies at Victoria and Monash universities.
Over Easter, a group of around 15 Hope member and other people within their families spent a couple of days at the Eureka Camp in Yarra Junction. It was a great time of socialising, rigorous discussion, and a multi-cultural mix of good food, shisha, table tennis, an Easter Egg hunt, and dancing from across the world, late into the night. We plan to have another Hope weekend in September, and lockdowns permitting, to join in with some Eureka Collective weekends to do some work around the camp.
We have had just the one community meal since restrictions lifted prior to the most recent lockdown, and look forward to having another sometime soon, to welcome our handful of new members.
We are also working on a book of stories about educational access and pathways, contributed to by 19 Hope members, called “Becoming Hope” and are currently seeking a publisher. We will keep our Earthworker friends informed on progress!
Become a member of HOPE Co-op
Like and Share about HOPE Co-op on facebook
We’re excited to report the completion of the first crucial phase of research and planning surrounding the establishment of the Powering Victoria Cooperative!
One and a half years ago the four Construction Unions gave Earthworker Cooperative the go ahead to drill down and define what it would look like for our movement to assist unionists to establish a cooperative tasked with a broad-based program to green the State of Victoria. What would be the skills required, which technologies would we best focus upon and importantly, how could we mobilise the Nations’ socialised capital, Superannuation, in behind the projects and the recommendations which our work would unearth?
After more than a year's work the Powering Victoria Cooperative Steering Committee has produced the Powering Victoria Cooperative Final Report with two key recommendations dealing with Energy Efficiency and Housing.
The four Construction Unions have now affirmed the report’s key recommendations, providing a green light for the establishment of the Earthworker Construction Cooperative.
Furthermore, on Friday 14th May the Victorian Trades Hall Council adopted Earthworker Cooperative's Powering Victoria Cooperative Final Report. This resulted in Earthworker and its Powering Victoria Cooperative becoming, once and for all, a project with full support of the Victorian union movement. Now we begin the next phase!
As per the two recommendations, in the initial years we will focus on Energy Efficiency and Housing. Therefore, apart from the Earthworker Construction Cooperative, currently forming, we have a team of experts, knowledgeable in the area, working towards the creation of an Earthworker Housing Cooperative - another part of the Powering Victoria Cooperative.
In addition to our cooperative manufactory producing solar hot water systems and household heating, we have also now partnered with unions and other community organisations to help establish an energy retailer Cooperative Power Australia ‘CPA’. [insert link to Cooperative Power Australia]. The cooperative is currently retailing and we want to assist with a drive across Victorian and Australian unions to sign up as many as possible to CPA. The very important reason for that is that CPA will not only provide power but also a means for Australian unionists and others to purchase the green technologies they need, on their energy bill.
For the Energy Efficiency component of the new jobs our retailer, CPA, provides the appropriate means for union families (and others e.g. domestic workers at home) to purchase the energy upgrades on housing or office spaces. Ultimately we plan to provide a full spectrum cooperative response: Audit; installation (with as much as we can install being cooperatively and/or Australian made as possible); provision of all the trades worker-owners so that the householder does not have to search; actual service of warranties; and importantly as we’ve said above, to provide a financial means to workers to purchase their needs on the CPA bill.
On the green housing front, through Earthworker Cooperative alliance-building, Powering Victoria Cooperative has a 7-10 star rated home, made in a Clayton factory. Once the slab is poured construction on these factory-built homes is a matter of days to complete. We intend to bring to each project a community and not just an estate, solar hot water, household heating and shared solar power and battery storage, etc.
Over time we intend to increase both the level of cooperative labour and input, as well as the amount of cooperative-made products, into each project.
Importantly, in each project, 5% of every build will go towards the Earthworker Housing Cooperative. We envisage a Crawl, Walk and Run stage with Crawl to be a small project between 100 – 200 homes, to establish the model. Walk will be at around 1000 homes and Run at 2000+. As you can see 5% of builds going into an Earthworker Housing Cooperative will start to add up.
Green Housing, Green Jobs in manufacturing and construction - A Tiny Home example of one of the models we intend to build.
Earthworker News and Events
Earthworker Education is currently delivering our 10 week course in “Starting A worker Cooperative”. Initially begun August 2020 by Eleanor Coffey and Katherine Cunningham with a grant from NED that provided some support to develop the first pilot delivery. Then with the support of Jesuits Community College we delivered our pilot and learned much. There has since been a second delivery, just finishing this week. Not as many students in the second round, but still lots to learn as I teach. Eleanor has had to leave it with me, as her Redgum duties are huge.
I have also been building the bones of a bootcamp delivery, to work with those that are already an established group with a whole strong business in mind. This is a different application of the education, as the initial 10 week course has a broad brush in relation to what kinds of businesses we consider possible for the cooperative model, ie. all kinds. There is further breaking down of the initial work into a shorter, “What is a worker cooperative and why should I be in one?” probably 3 x 2 hour sessions and designed for broad general public education. I would like to build a digital delivery of this as well as an in person delivery, although a personal delivery, not recorded, there are plenty of them.
Spreading the good word about worker cooperatives is a storytelling adventure. We have little if any reflection in our culture that they even exist. There are no sitcoms, no films, no music videos that show people working in worker cooperatives, there is no normalization going on out there. The “normal job” is working for someone else, or the government, or if you have the gumption, working for yourself. Nowhere in our world is the democratic practice of a worker cooperative expressed or envisioned. This is what the Earthworker Education is for. We need to make them real, to share their actual lived reality of working in a worker cooperative.
As I write this for the newsletter of Earthworker, I hope I am preaching to the converted here, in the value of what a worker cooperative brings to our culture. I invite our membership to consider where we could take this 6 hour, short course, 3 times 2 hours, or maybe even one whole day's worth of exploring what it is that the worker coop could do in our world. I found myself describing the worker cooperatives as like the boats of Dunkirk, all those little vessels, sovereign unto themselves, doing the work of the hour. We are on the beach, we need a way off this capitalistic war front and into our own boats, setting our own courses in a very volatile future.
If you have anything you would like to share in this arena, please shoot me an email.
Katherine Cunningham at [email protected]
I look forward to where it is this education can take Earthworker. Feel free to join me!
The Arizmendi Forum 2021
Please let me start by acknowledging that I write to you from First Nations’ lands that were never ceded. Earthworker Cooperative seeks to do practical Treaty work with the First Nations people in Australia around the use of cooperative surpluses as well as First Nations worker-ownership in our cooperatives.
Earthworker Cooperative is an organisation which has borrowed much from the Mondragon cooperative experience in in the Basque Countries near Spain.
As Earthworkers will know we grew out of the union movement and our history of representing working people resulting from many union battles over a number of decades. Our beginnings are different, however in our aims and objectives we are committed to the same outcomes as Mondragon.
November 29th 2021 is the anniversary of the passing of Fr Don Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta founder of the Mondragon cooperatives and we want to mark his contribution with a global zoom. This will be preceded by a couple of Arizmendi Gatherings. We are reaching out to people globally seeking involvement and to learn more about cooperative experiences around the world.
A leaflet has been prepared calling for a meeting on 22 April, on Arizmendi's birthday, to begin to work towards a November commemoration of his life and contribution. We reckon that the event will assist all of us understand more about Arizmendi, cooperatives and importantly, to look at increasing the power of the global cooperative movement to deal in very practical ways with building an alternative to climate emergency, species extinction and the growing, global war economy.
As part of this work we want to empower people with a deeper understanding of Australian and global cooperative histories. Over time we want to continue to look at the histories of the cooperative experience in other parts of the globe.
For us Arizmendi and Mondragon are a beautiful place to begin. As Arizmendi says:
'The redistribution of wealth is necessary, but the socialisation of education is more pressing, to be able to think about the true humanisation of work.'
We also have a pdf version of a proposed book Arizmendi's Reflections and it is very instructive in offering a picture of the man and the priest. We are not distributing it widely as we want to organise its distribution, later in the year, in a way that will raise some funds to help our comrades at Solidarity Hall in North America, to publish. So please stay tuned for that.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the Gatherings in October culminating in the November 29th zoom can contact me:
Dave Kerin on 0412484094
Email: [email protected]
FaSinPat : Building the International Cooperative Movement
We have not forgotten that at the 5 month-long Hazelwood Power Plant CFMEU picket line, 10 years ago, we shook hands with representatives from the Argentinian cooperative, Zanon, on a Social Sector Fair Trade Agreement (SSFTA).
When we can, the Argentinian workers’ factory will come here and the Earthworker Cooperative factory in Morwell, Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative, will be replicated in Argentina, distributing democratic ownership and control into each other’s countries.
Global SSFTA’s are a part of any future if it is to be viable, if it is to have social and environmental justice at its heart and if we are to have the financial and community resources to make a difference. Not only exchanging cooperatives but also cooperating financially to put the new cooperative jobs in place to deal with climate emergency, species extinction and the growing militarization of the global economy.
By these methods it is our objective to strengthen our links with Mondragon, approach the more than 11,000 Nth American workers cooperatives, form alliances with Italian cooperators and unions, and co-organise with cooperatives and unions across Latin, Central and South American countries from Venezuela and Argentina to Cuba, Colombia and El Salvador. We will seek open and inclusive partnerships in China, Russia and across our planet to work towards those things we all agree upon.
SSFTA’s: Shared assets in distributed ownership, to meet human need, in a democratic economics, on a sustainable and peaceful planet.
Thank you for your support,
- If you are not already a member of Earthworker Cooperative you can sign up here and be actively involved in the just-transition to a cleaner and fairer economy. Any questions about membership do please get in touch by replying to this email.
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