CICOPA interviewed Melissa Hoover to know the United States’ cooperative sector’s situation in depth and its vision as an engine for worldwide sustainable jobs.
- USFWC was founded in 2004. How many members does the Federation have nowadays and how many people does it represent?
We have 75 members (worker cooperatives and democratic workplaces), which represent about 1400 people. Even though our data is not complete, we believe our membership includes a third of worker cooperatives in the United States.
- Which role do worker cooperatives play today in the US economy?
Worker cooperatives in the US can be found in almost all sectors and industries. Increasingly worker cooperatives tend to be concentrated in the service sector. Recently we’ve seen a lot of growth in worker-owned home health care and health care cooperatives. As nonprofit and community-based organizations get more involved in cooperative development, they are creating cooperatives that respond to the needs of their communities, which often include immigrants with limited access to employment or poor communities that are cut off from economic opportunities.
- What are the main obstacles when creating a cooperative? How can they be overcome?
The largest obstacles are education and funding. Here in the US, we have no uniform cooperative statute for creating a worker cooperative, so to start one you need to do a lot of research, talk to a lot of people, and try to figure out for yourself how it works. There are also not very many attorneys and accountants who understand worker cooperatives well enough to support them effectively, so people who want to create a cooperative may end up choosing not to.
The other obstacle, of course, is access to capital. Start-up worker cooperatives simply don’t have much access to capital, or to credit. The laws and institutions here in the US benefit traditional corporations, so it’s hard to break into that system.
- The USFWC is quite new so it could be inspiring for worker cooperatives in other parts of the world. Why is it important for worker cooperatives to have a federation of this kind?
As important as the growth in the number and size of worker cooperatives themselves, is the growth of institutions that support them. It is when these institutions are formed that we see a consolidation of resources and build a real capacity as a movement. We are trying to do something critical and very difficult: build economic institutions that meet people’s needs through commitment in the market place, and according to a set of principles and values. In order to do this hard work, especially in an environment that is indifferent at best and hostile at worst, we need to support one another. Although we’re busy running our cooperative businesses! Federations can help to do much of this work of connecting us together and creating the social and economic conditions we need.
International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and
Service Producers' Cooperatives
Secretariat: C/O European Cooperative House - avenue Milcamps 105
1030 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 2 543 1033, fax: +32 2 543 1037