Workers’ cooperative visits Hunter Valley

Issue 
Earthworker Cooperative founder Dave Kerin.

Dave Kerin from the Victorian Earthworker Cooperative toured the Hunter region on July 30 and 31 to talk about the Eureka Future Cooperative. The cooperative plans to make solar hot water units in the LaTrobe Valley of Victoria, with the support of trade unions, the Uniting Church, Victoria Trades Hall, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and community fundraising.

The project is particularly relevant to the Hunter, whose coal industry is in the midst of an overproduction crisis, fuelled by lower than expected demand for steaming coal from China and the rise of renewables worldwide.

Hundreds of coal workers and related contractors have been sacked in the Hunter region in recent months. Community campaigners fighting the destruction of towns, farmland and air quality from expanded mining have been scapegoated for the job losses, when in fact the primary cause is the oversupply of coal and associated collapse in its price.

Kerin visited community campaigners from the Hunter Central Rivers Alliance in the Central Coast, and at Singleton in the Hunter Valley. He also toured the community of Bulga with local activist John Krey. The tour concluded with a public meeting at Newcastle Trades Hall.

An innovative aspect of the solar hot water cooperative is the use of enterprise bargaining agreements to generate demand for the units.

The long-term plan is for larger scale renewable production and sister cooperatives in places like the Hunter Valley and Port Augusta. Initial support was gathered for the establishment of a Hunter Valley cooperative.

Kerin said that he was proud to report that there was to be a united “climate activists for coal workers” rally in Melbourne on August 16.

Kerin said that the cooperative was something progressives and unionists of various backgrounds should get behind. Even those who believe in “coal, coal, coal” should really be saying “coal, coal, coal, renewable” because the project is about creating local, unionised manufacturing jobs.

Newcastle Trades Hall secretary Gary Kennedy said that he had seen a presentation about the Earthwoker project before, but congratulated Kerin and the Earthworker team for bringing the project to its current stage where it was ready to receive orders.

Kennedy said there were attempts from Newcastle Trades Hall to set up a similar solar hot water scheme following the closure of the BHP steelworks in Newcastle in the late 1990s, but the withdrawal of promised government loans had derailed the project.

[Plans for another tour to deepen support for establishing a local cooperative in the Hunter were discussed. For information, visit earthworkercooperative.com.]