Bruno Roelants is the General Secretary of CICOPA (International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Co-operatives), which is the sectoral organization of the International Co-operative Alliance that promotes worker cooperatives. Headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, CICOPA has a membership of 57 national and regional cooperative federations in 39 countries. CWCF recently had the opportunity to interview Bruno Roelants.
Q: Where are the largest worker co-op sectors?
A: Italy and Spain are by far the largest. In Italy alone there are 800,000 workers in worker co-operatives, comprising tens of thousands of enterprises. France is the third highest with about 2,000 enterprises.
Q: Where is there rapid growth?
A: In Italy the growth is from social co-operatives, which have increased 30% in the last 5 years.
Q: How do you explain the huge scale of the worker co-op movement in Italy and Spain?
A: First, the worker co-op movements there have been large for a long time; strength breeds strength. Secondly, there is a lot of support from the other co-op sectors (credit unions, insurance, consumer co-ops, etc.) for worker and social co-ops. This is crucial, and it brings both financial backing and also political will, to create the kind of government programming which is needed. Further, especially in Italy and France, there are co-op development funds which are also a key to the rapid growth of the worker co-op sector. In Italy each co-op is obliged to place 3% of their profits into a fund that is used to create new co-ops or help existing co-ops. Many worker and social co-ops are the main recipients of those funds. SOCODEN and SVENEFIN-IDES are examples of such funds in Italy.
Q: What about outside of Europe?
A: The countries with the largest worker co-op movements outside of Europe are: China, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. The places where the worker co-op movement is relatively small but growing quickly include Finland, South Africa, India, Eastern/Central Europe, and Malta.