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Earthworker Cooperative

For 22 years Earthworker Cooperative has brought the climate movement together with the labour movement to build cooperative manufactories and other cooperatives to enable communities to find ways out of the climate emergency. Today it is supporting a growing network of cooperatives in manufacturing, energy, and service sectors, including the award-winning Redgum Cleaning Cooperative.

Friends of the Earth Australia / Earthworker Cooperative
Melbourne, Morwell, Australia

Fighting for climate and social justice

The Earthworker project was set up by tra­de unionists who were also environmentalists, and who realised they could use their social weight to help the state of Victoria undertake a ‘just transition’ to a low-carbon economy, as well as empower fossil-fuel dependent regions like the Latrobe Valley community through dignified, democratic employment and socially and environmentally useful enterprise. The strategy to achieve these goals was framed by the realisation that the movement needed to move beyond relying only on a protesting  model in which the community could literally work its way out of climate emergency.

The need to build a vehicle to make the alternatives of the environmental movement reality led to the formation of the Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative. This has become Earthworker’s flagship initiative. It is a worker-run factory producing premium quality products around solar-powered hot water and energy storage for Australian households and businesses in Victoria’s coal region in Morwell. The unique initiative assists Victoria’s transition to a low-carbon economy and strengthens the Latrobe Valley community through dignified employment and environmentally friendly enterprise.

The cooperative sells its products to customers and governments and through union Enterprise Bargaining Agreements. The Maritime Union of Australia is the first major union to place the Earthworker Clause into their Agreements. This means that waterfront workers will be able to obtain local cooperative-manufactured products as part of their negotiated wage rise, which means they support climate jobs and reduce their energy bills.

Supporting low-income communities

The Eathworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative’s factory in Morwell is now fully functional. That would not have happened without the fundraising of the community of well over AUD$650,000. Five employee’s work for the cooperative, with the factory manufacturing stainless steel tanks that, paired with a heat pump, reduces power needs by 80%. Other sodium nickel battery products, a domestic plug and play unit, and a portable trailer batteries and panels unit are currently in the waiting.

Earthworker is focused on outcomes that contribute to social and environmental justice, and has already placed solar-powered hot water systems into low-income housing. Furthermore, they are engaged in the act of practical Treaty building with First Nations peoples which involves installing hot water systems in Indigenous Housing.

Three basic principles

Earthworker believes in the need to unite the broadest possible alliance behind the positive outcomes they are striving for. Thus, their work is based on the following three principles:

  1. Development of a stronger social sector of the Australian and global economy via cooperatives and mutuals linked through membership of, and distribution of goods and power through, unions;
  2. Introduction of Public Social Partnerships bringing particularly our superannuated wages funds that the union successfully fought for and governments together to achieve the big infrastructure projects Australia and the world need.
  3. Linking activities globally through Social Sector Fair Trade Agreements (SSFTA’s) with the labour, cooperative, and environmental movements, Superannuation/Pension Funds, national and regional governments, faith communities and others to build the critical mass of action around the climate emergency.

Quote from the Transformative Cities evaluation committee

“To build bridges between the climate and labour constituencies and connect union membership and public procurement to worker-owned cooperatives that provide more ecologically sustainable products is very innovative and urgently needed. The Earthworker Cooperative provides plenty of inspiration for practical and positive energy alternatives elsewhere!”

– Lavinia Steinfort

This story originally featured in the Atlas of Utopias.

Title Image Credit: Earthworker Cooperative

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