The EarthWorker Cooperative is off to a good start this year, as it begins to distribute its renewable energy products.
The EarthWorker project has been the result of a 16-year development between trade unions and green movements across the country, also involving small-scale businesses that have been financially damaged by the neoliberal policies of the state and federal governments for the past two decades.
Its main purpose so far has been to set up a worker-owned factory, Eureka’s Future, in the Latrobe Valley to make and distribute renewable energy products. These include solar-powered water heating systems, heating pumps and solar ventilators.
Dave Kerin, the main project manager of EarthWorker, spoke about its recent developments on 3CR radio. He said: “For over 16 years, EarthWorker has recognised that Australia needs to move away from a service-dominated economy to a growth-creating economy based upon manufacturing of renewable energy goods.
“In order to move towards a collective market with community-owned and worker-owned industries and enterprises, it is necessary to be a shift away from the private market that is driven by an ever-increasing need to drive down labor costs and constantly selling more goods.
“As a solution to the private market based on never-decreasing consumption, we have proposed that the collective market be based on seeking socialised capital, particularly the workers’ superannuation, for the common good, which is currently being invested into private parts of the Australian economy.
“Currently, 70% of all investment-grade capital comes from workers’ superannuation. Therefore, the Australian working class has never been in a better position to take control of the economy and seek out a socialised part of the production.
“Learning from the experiences of 20th century socialism, workers cooperatives and workers’ control, we learned that mutual funds and organisations provide trusted means by which we can control parts of the economy — to essentially have the socialised part of the economy being simultaneously the driver and the motor of it, rather than it being in the hands of corporations or the capitalist state.”
The EarthWorker Cooperative has recently acquired a licence to begin the distribution of solar hot water systems, including hot water pumps and hot water tanks. One of the main ways in which the purchase of the cooperative’s goods take place is through the Enterprise Bargaining Agreements between unions and employers that would allow the workers to purchase Eureka’s Future products as part of their agreements through various options: directly from Eureka’s Future, through an interest-free loan via the employers, or through a low interest loan via credit union MECU.
According to workers’ cooperatives information provided by the EarthWorker website, this collective purchase of hot water systems by workers would enable them to bring down their costs of living, while simultaneously cutting carbon emissions and supporting Australian manufacturing.
A recent partnership with Siddons SolarStream and Douglas Solar has allowed EarthWorker to make and begin the distribution of the first batch of solar hot water pumps, while Everlast, a small manufacturing industry in Dandenong, is making water tanks for the cooperative’s distribution.
At the start of production at Eureka’s Future in the Latrobe Valley, every line of products and services will be fully owned and maintained by the worker-owners of the cooperative, with a projected start being around the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
The EarthWorkers’ presence at the recent Sustainability Festival and the Sydney Road Festival in Melbourne has been accompanied by a growing interest in the initiative that seeks to create a socialised manufacturing sector in the economy, just as large-scale manufacturers like Toyota have recently announced divestment and closure of manufacturing plants throughout the country.
Kerin summarised what he saw as being the eventual goal of the project: “If [Eureka’s Future] happens in Australia, it can happen in alliances with cooperatives and mutuals around the world. Eventually, we would like to seek out similar partners in joint ventures around the world — in Latin America, the Middle East and other continents and countries.”
For now, however, Eureka’s Future and EarthWorker are also giving assistance to cooperatives in Australia, such as the 888 Brewing cooperative in Victoria.
The development of the social sector of the economy is one of the most important tasks here. And if successful, it could prove to be a real community-led and worker-initiated response to the crisis of neoliberalism and the slow destruction of Australia’s manufacturing base.