Worker-owner sustainable industry one step closer

Issue 

After a successful crowd-funding campaign that raised the funds for a manufacturing licence, Earthworker Cooperative Australia and Eureka’s Future Workers Cooperative will install their first solar hot water unit in Melbourne on April 15.

A fully equipped worker-owned factory is still a way off, but project coordinator and Socialist Alliance member Dave Kerin says it is now one step closer.

Kerin told Green Left Weekly that, under licence, Eureka’s Future has had the tanks made by small business supporter Everlast, the solar panels have come from Albury-Wodonga and the plumbing fit-out of the tank was completed by Douglas Solar in its factory. Kerin said once the units were being made under one roof, it would “knock 33% off the cost of each unit”.

Kerin said Eureka’s Future was starting to recruit worker-owners. Following the Mondragon cooperative model, worker-owners will have access to flexible and fair loans to buy in to the cooperative. Kerin said once the load has been repaid, “all worker-owners will receive wages pegged to industry EBA standards”.

Profits will cover wages, child care, housing and other social needs to worker-owners, and the rest will be invested in more work and research and development. A further 5% “social dividend” will go to social justice projects, such as providing low-income earners with solar hot water units.

Demand for the project is being driven by negotiations with supportive unions, community organisations and churches. Union support will mean new enterprise bargaining agreements in targeted industries will allow workers to buy the units as part of their salary package (via salary sacrifice initially).

Kerin said the scheme would have immediate benefits for workers: “Once they see their household electricity bill go from 26% of household spending to zero.”

Another plan is to negotiate with the community sector, local councils and other government-run bodies to procure and sell in bulk for buildings and facilities such as schools.

Kerin said Earthworker Cooperative Australia will look after the research and development side, provide training, and will look after the financing, lobbying and marketing side of the project.

To preserve the integrity of the cooperative, Kerin said Earthworker was “taking a lead from the decades-long experience in Mondragon, especially an emphasis on training in workers’ self-management.”

Earthworker’s website explains that its mission is to facilitate the establishment of worker cooperatives throughout regional Australia, specifically in coal regions.

Earthworker Cooperative Australia and the Eureka’s Future Cooperative production facility follow the seven principles of cooperatives, which are: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; equitable economic participation and distribution; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community.

The Eureka’s Future solar hot water unit factory will be located in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, in the heart of Victoria’s coal region in the city of Morwell. It will be set up and tooled from funds raised by the “One hundred thousand Australians” campaign.

Two million dollars will make this goal realisable. The installation and a planned media conference will seek to raise awareness about the project and to encourage members to join.

Plans are under way to expand the project to other states. A cooperative is being set up in Fremantle, Western Australia, with the support of the WA branches of the Maritime Union of Australia and the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union.

There are also plans for similar set-ups in New South Wales and Queensland and national legislation covering cooperatives is due to be introduced to parliament this year.

[For more information, visit Earthworker's wesbite.]

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