By Jack Staunton
The Hotel BAUEN in Buenos Aires, Argentina, occupied by its workers since early 2003, is under threat of eviction by the local government in an effort to return the hotel to its original owners. They charge that since the workers’ seizure of control over the hotel was illegal, it must now be returned. Dozens of other worker-managed workplaces and co-operatives in Argentina fear similar attacks, as BAUEN is a key symbol for the labour movement.
Five years ago, some two hundred businesses were taken over by workers not prepared to go without work in the wake of an economic collapse. This “recovered factories” movement not only included industry and factories — such as the Zanon ceramics plant in Neuqen — but also meat packing plants, printers, textiles and even the Hotel BAUEN itself. When the owners abandoned BAUEN in financial chaos, it was up to a nucleus of thirty workers to get a hotel stripped of supplies and with no power back to work again – in 2007 there are 160 staff, all 200 rooms are in use, and a new cafe/bookshop opened out the front of the hotel. They did this from scratch, with no finance and relying on their own hard work.
But a capitalist economy will not allow islands of workers’ management to continue to exist — while Zanon is still run by assemblies of its workers, who receive equal pay and short hours, most of the occupations were forced out by legal challenges, supplier boycotts and market pressure. Others became traditional co-operatives, with hierarchical management structures barely distinguishable from those of any other capitalist firm.
While the great popular support for Zanon and the resilience of its workers have allowed it to win numerous court challenges — it recently obtained a three-year extension of its “legal expropriation order” — BAUEN is highly vulnerable. The Zanon workers have raised the demand of “nationalisation under workers’ management”, maintaining their independent rule but with state financial and legal authority — while the immediate task is to fight off the eviction order, a similar demand would be well-posed to keep the hotel free from a return to the rule of the bosses.