Getting your head around some of the structural aspects of the Earthworker Cooperative can be an ongoing learning process, therefore, clarifying some common questions may be helpful for fellow members.
What is the relationship between a cooperative and its members?
It really is true, people are the most important part of any cooperative, and once they join as members, they become the heart and soul. Cooperatives belong to members, are operated by members, and act to benefit their members. Each member has one vote, which makes them equal participants in making democratic cooperative decisions.
Members have a responsibility to be active and support their cooperative, and in return, cooperatives are committed to ethically meet their members’ social, economic and environmental needs.
What type of cooperative is Earthworker? And how does its structure operate?
The Earthworker Cooperative is a multi-stakeholder cooperative, with a varied membership base of workers, volunteers, investors and community supporters to govern its organisation. Earthworker currently has 300 members, with each person owning a share, and the ability to vote as part of the democratic decision making process.
The Earthworker Cooperative Board is elected by and accountable to the membership. It can consist of up to seven people, and is a combination of experienced Earthworker members that are well-rooted in the project, and people with specific expertise (eg. legal, finance etc).
Earthworker organisers are members committed to the day-to-day running of the cooperative. A member can become an organiser after a 6-month probation period. Organisers have been almost entirely volunteer, however Earthworker is looking to remunerate organisers to allow the cooperative to grow and ensure long-term sustainability of the project.
Earthworker brings a range of valuable people with diverse backgrounds and interests together. People involved in the project recognise the need to solve social and environmental problems with grounded and democratic solutions that don’t leave any communities behind. We aim to establish a network of worker-owner cooperatives committed to sustainable enterprise throughout Australia.
Earthworker will operate as a democratic peak body within the ecosystem of worker-owner cooperatives. We talk about support coming in the form of ‘four legs of the table’: offering 1) financial support and guidance, 2) quality education and training, 3) assistance in worker-owner welfare, and 4) coordinating research and development for the network.
For example, support can range from providing finance for a new cooperative to start-up, to providing a worker-owner a secure home in cooperative housing. We act as a non-distributing cooperative, which means surplus finances cannot be distributed to our members (unlike the worker-cooperatives like Earthworker Energy, see below). Instead, funds are used to continue building the cooperative ecosystem.
What is the relationship between Earthworker Cooperative and Earthworker Energy Manufacturing Cooperative?
Earthworker Energy is the first Earthworker worker-owned cooperative manufacturing high quality solar hot water technology from their factory in the Latrobe Valley. Members act as both employers and employees. This gives worker-owners the ability to define working conditions, salaries and benefits, and share in the cooperatives’ surpluses, with the opportunity of dignified and democratic employment.
Earthworker Energy is a distributing cooperative, where surplus finances build capital for the cooperative, and any remaining surplus is shared among its members, and to the broader Earthworker ecosystem. Earthworker Energy will contribute financially to the Earthworker Cooperative, and in turn receive the support that comes with being part of the Earthworker ecosystem. A healthy tree needs a healthy forest!
Please see our ‘Starting you own cooperative page’ for further reading and a great list of resources at: http://earthworkercooperative.com.au/start-your-own-cooperative/