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Australia: Our mission is to 'Reclaim Power for People', by developing a model for cooperative production and distribution of sustainable technologies.
"We are facing two interrelated crises; growing inequality and climate change. In the face of these threats, inaction from governments and business-as-usual, we are organising a creative response that works across social divides and consciously ties together the struggles for environmental, social and economic justice."
I have worked as a union organiser on construction sites and coal power stations all my life. The Australian union movement has won many victories, from the eight hour day to universal health care and worker safety. Yet we are currently facing two interrelated crises; growing inequality and climate change. In the face of these threats, inaction from governments and business-as-usual, we are organising a creative response that works across social divides and consciously ties together the struggles for environmental, social and economic justice.
The Earthworker project builds on Australia's long history of unions and greenies working together. It aims to dissolve the 'jobs versus environment myth', by building a grounded alternative whereby communities can own and control sustainable ways to meet our needs, and 'work our way out of the climate crisis'.
We are a worker-led cooperative movement that aims to build a network of worker-owned cooperatives, providing dignified, democratic and community-based livelihoods in sustainable industries.
Earthworker's first cooperative, Eureka's Future Workers' Cooperative, is a project to manufacture high quality solar hot water systems in Victoria's coal-dominated Latrobe Valley. In 2014 an open cut brown coal mine run by GDF Suez burnt out of control for 45 days, covering local towns in toxic smoke and ash. Despite the climate and local health impacts of the coal industry, it remains an important employer in an already economically disadvantaged region. For communities who rely on coal, we aim to build a tangible alternative and show that a ‘just transition’ away from fossil fuels is possible.
The first steps in this process are underway, with the mutualisation (the process of transforming a business into a cooperative) of an existing factory in outer-eastern Melbourne. We hope to secure jobs in Australia's rapidly declining manufacturing industry and embark on the process of practising workplace democracy. Once this cooperative factory is established, the next step is to expand production of renewable technology into the Latrobe Valley.
A key feature of Earthworker is to build partnerships with labour unions and allow workers to collectively decide to allocate a portion of their wages to obtain an Earthworker solar hot water system through workplace agreements. This provides simple and affordable access to sustainable technology for workers, whilst creating work for local manufacturing cooperatives.
Environmental groups are also central to this project, by promoting cooperative products to their supporters and providing logistical support they have helped us get off the ground. And in 2014, when coal workers in the La Trobe Valley were on strike, we called for a solidarity action, in which hundreds of climate activists and power plant workers stood together for social justice.
Our mission is to 'Reclaim Power for People', by developing a model for cooperative production and distribution of sustainable technologies. By building something tangible, right now, we are building not just solar hot water systems, but trust and solidarity between diverse groups of people - climate activists, coal industry unionists, church organisations and small manufacturers. It is a strategy that works across social and political divides, and while the vision is expansive, it is starting the only way we can: from where we are currently standing, and with one step at a time.