CECOP (C): Mr. Paszkowski, thank you so much for having us in this celebratory occasion for NAUWC: 30th anniversary of the National Auditing Union of cooperatives in Poland.
As president of this organization, can you tell us a bit more about the work that NAUWC does and the cooperatives it represents?
Janusz Paszkowski (JP): The National Auditing Union of Cooperatives is a control and advisory body for affiliated and non-affiliated cooperatives. In addition, it runs a low-interest loan fund for cooperatives. To a very large extent, we conduct training on cooperative and general issues (e.g. the so-called "Polish Deal”). We assist in establishing contacts between cooperatives in the country and abroad. We also provide broadly understood consultancy on various issues. Within NAUWC we have a 13-person advisory-consulting team, which provides advice on basically all matters concerning cooperatives. We also have an Agency for Development and Promotion of Cooperatives,that runs and offers support for coops, provided information on coops and builds awareness on cooperative issues. It is oriented mainly on trainings, but it also prepares, on request, opinions and expertise both for the cooperatives and external organisations such as Ministry in Poland. The Union, through audits (in Polish “lustracja”), supervises the proper functioning of cooperatives in its entire scope. Within NAUWC there is a position of specialist for international cooperation, who is in constant contact with organizations around the world After the change of the statute in 2020, NAUWC significantly expanded its activities due to the fact that it has been long cooperated with many social organizations within the social economy and it was more than natural for NAUWC to give access to more entities including new forms of emerging businesses like cooperative platforms and so forth. All this couldn’t be done nor performed by NAUWC without its major asset people – to be more precise 65 highly qualified staff members.
There is full confidence of cooperatives in the activities of the Union. Their trust in our mission is based on, among other things, frequent meetings in each region where we operate called "President’s and Chief Accountant’s Club", which are very popular. It is a forum for discussion and exchange of experience between cooperatives and other organizations. Our expert-employees often visit cooperatives in their daily work. The Union also supports to a large extent the activities of the Foundation for the Development of Pupil Cooperatives, which is since NAUWC statutory change, has become Stakeholder of the Union.
(C): NAUWC was founded in 1992 and grew in a time of great transitions in Poland. The post-communist era, the orientation towards the west, and the EU membership on 2004 must have had tremendous impact on how NAUWC evolved. Can you tell us the history of NAUWC, how everything started and how did NAUWC become what it is today?
(JP): The National Auditing Union of Cooperatives that we know today was established on 14 November 1992 by the Founding Assembly of Workers' Cooperatives. The purpose of establishing the Union was to prevent the fragmentation of cooperative property in the situation of political and economic changes in Poland. The Union was also established as an advisory and control organisation for cooperatives. It still performs those functions successfully today.
After the period of reorganisation, the structures of the Union covering the whole Poland were clearly delineated and highly qualified persons were employed to perform the function of auditors (in Polish: lustratorów). Seventeen properties across the country were purchased and developed to house the Regional Delegations. The Headquarters and the Management Board Office are in Warsaw.
Today, apart from its basic activity, which is supervision and control, the Union conducts multidirectional activity within the scope of social economy among cooperatives, both associated and not associated. NAUWC also cooperates with organisations in Poland and abroad, which conduct social activities in addition to economic activity.
Our centers, covering Poland, consist of cooperative training centers, which with good effect broaden the knowledge on various issues necessary for the activity of cooperatives and social economy actors in general.
(C): NAUWC is a member of CECOP since 1997, seven years before the Polish government joined the European Union in 2004. What did it mean for you to join our European network at the time? And what does it mean today?
(JP): The affiliation of NAUWC to CECOP in 1997 was a great achievement. It opened many doors and opportunities of collaboration with cooperatives in Europe and in the world. Until today, this cooperation has been constantly growing. Additionally, CECOP has been significantly supporting the activities of NAUWC and this relationship is built trust and mutual understanding. Since the beginning of this cooperation, a representative of NAUWC has always been appointed in the governing bodies of CECOP. At the moment, this honour is mine, as I am Vice-President of CECOP.
(C): Nowadays, Poland is going through challenging times. The relations between the Polish government and the European Union and many of its member states are tense, and many are worried about the future of the Polish democracy. Are you concerned about these processes, and how do they might impact the work of NAUWC and of worker and social cooperatives in Poland?
(JP): We experienced a breakthrough in the activities of the Union and the whole cooperative movement in Poland when we joined the European Union; and the fact that 7 years earlier NAUWC had already been a member of CECOP significantly influenced its ability to cooperate with organizations at the EU level. Sessions organized by CECOP in Brussels with participation of prominent members of various international organisations significantly expanded the scope of activities of NAUWC.
Cooperative activity in Poland after the political transformation is wrongly perceived by the authorities. It is erroneously believed that all cooperatives are the products of communism. Meanwhile, cooperatives in Poland (under the partitions) were created already at the beginning of the 19th century.
We are proud of this tradition, and we draw much from it. With great concern we follow the current authorities' appropriation of democratic privileges acquired in the past. BECAUSE COOPERATIVES ARE AFTER ALL ONE BIG DEMOCRACY. We do not agree with the attempts of appropriation of democratic achievements. There are almost 8 million of us cooperatives in Poland and this is a significant group of voters for every authority.
Workers' and Social Cooperatives in spite of unfavorable external processes have been coping with these problems. We loudly claim our privileges and protest if someone tries to take them away from us.
(C): Although the current times may seem somewhat challenging, cooperatives have shown that they can strive in challenging times and provide stability and decent work for they members. what does NAWUC expect for the future of the cooperative movement in Poland?
(JP): NAUWC and other cooperative organizations, through their activities, and especially constant contact with cooperatives have impact on providing decent work for cooperative members. Cooperative activity in Poland has been functioning for over 200 years now and we are convinced that it will survive difficult times and will continue to develop.
(C): Finally, how do you see the relationship with CECOP, and CECOP's work in Europe evolving? What does NAUWC expect from the European worker and social cooperative movement?
(JP): Organizations associating cooperatives in Europe, especially CECOP have a great role to play in maintaining the current level of activity of cooperatives in Poland and other countries. Despite the limitations associated with the COVID-19 crisis, we are constantly in contact with CECOP, and its staff help us and advise us, who in turn that we can transfer back that knowledge to our cooperative members in Poland. This is very valuable, in view of the situation that prevails in Poland. I am convinced that not only Polish cooperatives will survive the difficult times, but also will develop dynamically, provided the European cooperative family stays tight and looks out for one another. United front – that’s all we need in these times and times ahead. Showing an example to future generations, providing them with incentives and building their awareness about social economy realm underlying that we need them MORE than they need us – we can do this and are capable of so much more! And, let me just finish by saying thank you for your cooperation, support, and friendship!
(C): We wish you a wonderful anniversary! Thank you for your time!