If the economic downturn escalates, will this happen in Britain?
In the aftermath of Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis, more than 180 factories and businesses were taken over by the workers. Grouped in a federation, such firms now employ 60,000 people directly and are now pushing for a stronger legal framework to be able to access credit.
In 2001, the BAUEN Hotel management began to fire their workers and by 2003, the last 80 workers were put on the street at a time when unemployment hit record levels – over 20% unemployed and 40% of the population unable to find adequate employment.
On March 21 2003, the workers decided to take over the building in the heart of Buenos Aires to safeguard their livelihood. They set up a workers’ cooperative and occupied the rundown hotel. Before the workers took home a paycheck, they reinvested all capital back into the hotel’s infrastructure: repaired the living areas, fixed the dysfunctional bathrooms, renovated the front café, hotel rooms, fire proofing salons and reopened the pool area before finally accommodating guests— while providing better wages and working conditions for the people running it. The hotel now has 150 workers, a street-side cafe selling many products produced by other worker-owned shops, and over 200 renovated hotel rooms.
The co-operative makes its decisions collectively at assemblies of its 142 staff, pays all workers the same basic $800 (£540, €650) a month (with just a few incentives, of less than $100, for length of service, timeliness and for staff handling cash, for example) and prides itself on its alternative management philosophy.
On a local level, BAUEN Hotel has become a prime example of coalition building, a political centre for movement organizing and a modern day commune. See a ‘counter’ fashion show here.
In 2007, the Mercoteles business group claimed to have purchased the hotel in 2006, when the BAUEN workers cooperative was already inside the hotel administering services. Though the president, Samuel Kaliman, was unable to provide the court with Mercoteles’ address, board member names and other legal information, an eviction notice was served in their favour.
When the eviction notice came, the hotel was booked for winter break vacation. However, workers and supporters mobilised fast and on August 5, in front of the Buenos Aires central courts, nearly 2,000 came out to defend the hotel.. The workers cooperative presented an appeal and are continuing to lobby for the definitive legal right to the hotel.
After two major music festivals generated widespread support for the worker-managed cooperative, a bill of expropriation, which would entitle the Bauen workers to ownership of the hotel, was drafted to be considered at the municipal and federal levels.
Through this project, it is reported, the workers hope to secure their legal future and pave the way for the many other recuperated enterprises and cooperatives fighting to maintain their constitutionally protected right to work.
In July 2011, the cooperative received an unfavourable ruling by the Supreme Court, effectively closing the possibility of a judicial solution to expropriate the property. The cooperative is now redoubling their efforts to support the bill for expropriation that would declare the building a public utility and reject the claims of the previous owners to the property. The bill has passed through the Cooperative Commission and will now move on to the General Legislation Commission in the National Congress.
Further information on this subject will be welcomed and published.