Eleanor Coffey talks about the process of setting up Redgum Cleaners Cooperative, an Earthworker-affiliated worker-owned cleaning service which hopes to launch in Melbourne this year.
“From little things big things grow” is the spirit that weaves its way through the story of the Earthworker project. Little things – like small conversations that turn into small actions. Small actions that invite more people to join in to build a shared vision. And before you know it, you’re on your way to starting a worker-owned green cleaning enterprise.
The first members of the Redgum Cleaners Cooperative, Pete and myself, met at a community forum hosted by Earthworker about how to start a worker cooperative in 2015. In those early meetings over coffee we were feeling around in the dark without much direction. But we kept talking – to each other and our friends. Gradually, more and more people jumped on board. Some drifted in and out, but today, we have seven enthusiastic and committed members who are putting in the grunt work to get this thing off the ground.
So, what has helped get us to this point?
Firstly, we really need the work. We need work that is secure. We need work that pays well. We need – and we reckon it is a need – work that is dignified, empowering, and doesn’t damage the ecosystem we depend on to live. Secondly, we care about our communities and want to be able to give back – whether it’s by supporting people experiencing disadvantage to become members of the cooperative, or finding ways to offer our services to people who really need them but wouldn’t normally be able to afford a cleaner.
But it’s not only our shared goals that have kept it moving. Our connection to a network of support through the Earthworker Cooperative has allowed us to access advice on matters like business planning, cooperative governance, and graphic design. This has been invaluable, since government support (such as the NEIS scheme) is not as accessible for cooperatively owned businesses (special mention to self described “co-op nerd” Antony McMullen for holding our hand through sorting out our governance!)
In the last 6 months or so we’ve made leaps and bounds. We’re on the way to finalising our constitution, our operating guidelines, business plan and much of the nitty-gritty of how we want to self-organise. Of course, sometimes it still feels slow and grueling. Sometimes it feels like we are back to feeling around in the dark. And of course, the real challenges of running the cooperative day-to-day still lie ahead.
However, the difference now is that we’ve navigated the confusion enough times to have confidence that we can figure it out together. So, watch this space – it may be a long way to the mop, but we’re going to get there!