Interview with Sevastiţa Grigorescu, President of UCECOM, Romanian Union of Handicraft and Production Cooperatives
CECOP: Ms Grigorescu, thank you for your time. Could you draw for us the identity lines of your organisation and its values? Romania has a long tradition of cooperation…
MS SEVASTIŢA GRIGORESCU: UCECOM, the National Union of Handicraft and Production Cooperatives of Romania was created in 1951 but Romanian cooperative history is much older.
Since the very beginning of our history, our organisation endorsed and promoted the universal cooperative values and principles. Even more so, that a legendary figure of Romanian history Dimitrie C. Butculescu, patriot, cooperator and philanthropist, was elected President of the International Cooperative Alliance Congresses in 1895, 1896 and 1897.
Cooperatives have been fostering and promoting social inclusion in Romania for a very long time: firstly, they have been a viable alternative for promoting the legitimate interests of the disadvantaged segments of the population. Later on, they represented a meaningful way for the middle class to improve their condition, given that it is more advantageous for an individual to operate within a group rather than strictly use only their own means, which are, of course, limited.
UCECOM currently associates, directly or indirectly, 466 cooperative entities (429 handicraft cooperative enterprises, 22 territorial unions and 15 cooperative associations).
What we mean by craft, though, usually refers to folk art and hand-made traditional products. As for other craft goods, many of our cooperatives produce hand-carved sculptures generally used to embellish or complement some industrial products of solid wood furniture.
C: So in terms production and service provision, the degree of specialisation is high…What do these cooperatives produce?
SG: Actually, most of our cooperatives carry out mixed activities: on top of production activities, they provide services and deal with trade within the same structure. Out of the more than 2000 work units, approximately two-thirds of these provide services while some units strictly focus on production and trade. Nevertheless, again, chances to find both production and service provision within the same cooperative are high.
Our cooperatives produce a variety of industrial and consumer goods, like textile and knitting garments; furniture and wooden articles; footwear and leather goods; folk art and handicrafts; metal and plastic products; sweets, essences and flavourings. Moreover, in the services sector, our cooperatives mainly operate in cosmetics, maintenance and repair of vehicles, custom-made clothing and footwear, repair of electrical and electro-technical items, optics, jewellery, construction, and industrial services. We are also present in the trade sector with shops selling in house produced goods or from third parties.
I: What does UCECOM do for its members?
SG: UCECOM’s main mission is to represent and defend the interests of cooperators and associate members, towards public and private bodies, including international fora. This entails of course to bring their voice in Europe and internationally through our constant engagement in CECOP and CICOPA.
Moreover, we provide consultancy services in order for our cooperatives to develop their assets, be it financially, legally or otherwise.
When it comes to general public and external partners, we are also involved in socio-cultural, scientific, charity and humanitarian activities through the ARTIFEX Foundation, which we founded ourselves. Plus, we do contribute, through the enterprise “Hefaistos-CM” and its hotel units, to the tourism sector.
C: More and more in Brussels and in the EU policy landscape, decision makers put a great accent to the need for the European workforce to gain new skills to better meet the challenges of the future of work. This is something very dear to the cooperative movement since in-work training is one of the characterizing principle of the cooperative model. How does UCECOM operate in the field of training?
SG: Thank you for this question. The issue of training, documentation, information and education are at the core of our mission. We have established a tight collaboration with the ARTIFEX University where UCECOM is directly involved in the academic faculties of Finance and Accounting, and Marketing, counting approximately 1800 students. Moreover, in the framework of the SPIRU HARET Foundation (where UCECOM is a founding member), we contribute to providing education in the pre-university system (vocational training and high schools) reaching out to 5300 students; and we manage lifelong learning centres for adult training, in order to accompany workers in their upskilling and reskilling path.
C: Ms Grigorescu, let’s go into politics, shall we? What are the latest political positions you took vis-à-vis the Romanian national decision-makers? What would you expect from national politics?
SG: While, according to our statutes, our organization is not involved in the party political debate and always ensures a balance vis-à-vis the political parties, we do intervene and take a stance whenever it is necessary, to represent the interests, claims and needs of our associate members and to support them in terms of legislative framework.
From national politics, we would very much welcome closer collaboration with the cooperative structures in order to amend certain regulations affecting cooperative enterprises: these laws need to be adapted to the specific activities of the cooperatives and, right now, our main objective is to tackle the issue of regulating the legal status of the land used by cooperative organizations.
C: If you would have to mention one recent advocacy action towards decision-makers, what would that be?
SG: In terms of advocacy, our latest activity included sending letters to the main political parties to promote the CECOP European Elections 2019 Manifesto and encourage candidates for the European Parliament to take on board the proposals of our European umbrella representation.
C: Thank you for bringing up the topic of the European Elections. What do you expect from European politics?
SG: Greater openness to cooperative organizations, especially those in the industry and services: worker cooperatives create jobs and work for economic and social progress. Also at the EU level, we need legislation, which supports the development of cooperatives. Of course, then Member States would have to implement these norms. To summarize, as clearly stated in the CECOP European Elections 2019 Manifesto, we want a level playing field for cooperatives in EU policies.