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Earthworker – Australia’s First Worker-Owned Green Manufacturing Cooperative

The Earthworker Cooperative is a community-led initiative addressing two significant problems; the stark reality of climate change, and a lack of secure, dignified work in sustainable industries. Earthworker is responding to these issues by setting up an Australia-wide network of community-owned cooperatives in sustainable industries. This is beginning with Eureka’s Future – a worker-owned factory manufacturing high-quality solar hot water systems in Morwell, Victoria, in the heart of Australia’s coal-dominated Latrobe Valley.

The project is one attempt to move beyond the oftentimes paralysing jobs vs environment dichotomy. Forging unlikely alliances between trade unions, environmentalists, small manufacturers, power-station workers, and faith groups, the project is a powerful endeavour to revitalise local economies, address climate change, and assist a ‘just transition’ to clean renewable energy. While many acknowledge the need to move away from coal and towards sustainable industries, Earthworker is providing a tangible means to do this, while ensuring no one is left behind.

Right now, Earthworker is supplying high-quality Solar Hot Water Systems to the community through partnerships with small-manufacturers. These systems are affordable, and are appropriate for both owners and renters. It now has a window of opportunity to transform one of its small manufacturing business partners, Everlast, into the first worker-owned solar hot-water manufacturing cooperative; ‘Eureka’s Future’. The project needs a leg-up in the short-term to get to this next stage.

There is now a crowdfunding campaign running through to ensure the project can take advantage of this opportunity. In five days it has raised over $18,000. There is a ‘tipping-point’ of $63,000, with an ultimate goal of $250,000. Through the capital raised in the campaign, Earthworker is aiming to buy-out the small-manufacturing business, Everlast, and see the worked-owned factory, Eureka’s Future, open its doors in the La Trobe Valley. There are two ways people can contribute to the crowdfund; buy a solar hot-water system (or put a deposit on a system), and/or donate.

Earthworker sits at the confluence of several opportunities and crises, as is evident from the groups and individuals that are standing with the project (not many projects have letters of support from both the Mining Trade Union, and direct-action environmental group Quit Coal).
Vitally, the project is one means by which workers and communities can start responding to the problems we are facing, and start deciding what is produced, and how it is produced, ourselves. A catchcry for the project is we don’t have time to wait for government and business. We can act where they have failed.

When the factory in Morwell is running, Earthworker aims to replicate the tactic across Australia, and eventually link up over national borders with similar project in other countries. Other regions in Australia have shown interest in setting up future cooperatives. In particular, in areas where coal is currently the primary means by which people earn a wage and meet their needs, many people are hungry for these alternatives. But first, Earthworker needs support to get the initial factory up and running. Only by many people deciding to invest in the project will it succeed. It will be built from below, and it will be run from below.

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