Here's an update on the worker-run hotel I stayed at in Buenos Aires...
ZNet Commentary (more online at http://www.zmag.org/)
Hotel BAUEN: Workers without bosses face eviction August 09, 2007
By Marie Trigona
Inside the BAUEN Hotel, one of Argentina's worker-run workplaces,
janitors, repairmen, receptionists and maids sit in an assembly with
worried but determined faces and sheets of paper in hand. Each of the
workers, some of whom have been working at the hotel since it was
built in 1978, hold a court ordered eviction notice, a judicial
document notifying the workers they must abandon the hotel or police
will force them to leave.
After four years of successful worker management, a federal court
issued a 30 day eviction notice to the workers of the hotel on July
20. However, this is the first court ordered eviction that the workers
cooperative has had to fight. Argentina's recuperated enterprises are
mobilizing to fight this new attack against workers' determination.
If the workers do not successfully block the eviction order legally or
through political actions the hotel could be lost and 150 workers out
of a job.
After the hotel's 2001 closure, left with no other option, on March
21, 2003 the workers decided to take over the hotel to safeguard their
livelihood and defend their jobs. Since 2003, workers have operated
the BAUEN cooperative hotel, a 20 story building in the very heart of
Buenos Aires. The BAUEN cooperative, like many of the recuperated
enterprises was forced to start up production without any legal
backing whatsoever. The BAUEN Hotel workers' cooperative currently
employs more than 150 workers, all working without bosses, supervisors
or owners but instead within a democratic workplace.
Starlit inaugurations and fraudulent bankruptcy
The BAUEN Hotel was inaugurated for the 1978 World Cup, during the
height of the military dictatorship. As the military dictatorship
disappeared 30,000 workers, students and activists inside a network of
clandestine detention centers, Argentina celebrated the 1978 world cup
victory. Hotel BAUEN's original owner, Marcelo Iurcovich, celebrated
as well. He received more than five million dollars to construct the
20-story hotel, with a government loan from the National Development
Bank (BANADE), with the military dictatorship's blessings.
Iurcovich, never held the hotel up to safety inspection codes and
never paid back state loans. He ran up debts and committed tax evasion
while making millions of dollars in profits and acquiring two more
hotels. In 1997, Iurcovich sold the hotel to the business group Solari
S.A. The Solari group followed in Iurcovich's footsteps, never paying
the BANADE debt. With little interest in the profitability and
maintenance of the hotel, the installations at the BAUEN deteriorated
until the Solari group filed bankruptsy in 2001.
On December 28, 2001, after the management began systematic firings
and emptied out the hotel, the remaining 80 workers were left in the
streets in the midst of Argentina's worst economic crisis and when
unemployment hit record levels-over 20% unemployed and 40% of the
population unable to find adequate employment. Gabriel Quevedo,
president of the BAUEN cooperative says that the workers created jobs
when investors and industrialists were fleeing the country. "The
workers took on responsibility when the country was in full crisis and
unemployment over 20 percent, where workers couldn't find work. The
workers formed a cooperative and created jobs, when no one believed
that it was possible."
New working culture
In the aftermath of the 2001 economic crisis, more than 180 factories
and businesses have been recuperated by the workers and today provide
jobs for more than 10,000 Argentine workers. Arminda Palacios is a
seamstress who has worked at the hotel for over 20 years and was one
of the key people who decided to cut off the locks on a side entrance
into the hotel on March 28, 2001. She defines the BAUEN hotel as
simply more than a cooperative that defends jobs. "Socially we have
proved to the people that workers can run a business. This is one of
our main motives, because people believe that the capitalists are the
only ones who can run a business, and we are proving the contrary
especially since we've created 150 jobs."
When the workers first occupied the hotel, it was in ruins. It wasn't
until nearly a year after they occupied the hotel that they were able
to begin renting out services. Before the workers took home a single
paycheck, they reinvested all capital back into the hotel. They have
invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the hotel's
infrastructure: renovating the front café, hotel rooms, fire proofing
salons and reopening the pool area.
Elena is a receptionist in her late 20's, who says she and her fellow
workers have sacrificed a lot to defend their jobs. "They didn't have
to throw us out into the streets on December 28, 2001, because the
hotel had enough business, but the businessmen allowed the hotel to go
to ruins and we had to leave. We have renovated the hotel and
successfully opened up a hotel that was closed. Now that they see that
the hotel is successful, they want to take it away from us."
In addition to creating jobs, the BAUEN hotel has become a key
organizing space for activists around the city. During an assembly on
July 23, workers from all around the country came to show their
support. "Without the BAUEN, our internal union commission wouldn't
have formed," one worker from the Buenos Aires casino said. Dozens of
other workers representing emerging rank and file unionists stressed
the importance that BAUEN has had on organizing and coordinating
workers' struggles. On a local level, BAUEN Hotel has become a prime
example of coalition building and development of a broad mutual
support network. In the midst of legal struggles and successfully
running a prominent hotel, the cooperative's members haven't forgotten
their roots. The 19-story worker run hotel has become a political
center for movement organizing and a modern day commune.
Current fight against eviction
The court ordered the eviction notice in favor of the Mercoteles
business group, which claims to have purchased the hotel from Solari
in 2006, when the BAUEN workers cooperative was already inside the
hotel administering services. The president of Mercoteles, Samuel
Kaliman, is Iurcovich's brother in law. In court last year, Kaliman
was unable to provide the court with Mercoteles' address, board member
names and other legal information.
Legal advisors and the workers suspect that the Mercoteles is a ghost
business group with little legal legitimacy and ties to the Solari
group. According to Isabel Sequeira, in her 11 years working at the
hotel under a boss she had seen many questionable administrative
changes. "Mercoteles is a ghost company. When I worked at the hotel
under bosses there were many sneaky administrative changes. We had
many 'bosses' that changed on a regular basis."
The Hotel workers also face another bigger challenge, a newly elected
right-wing mayor, Mauricio Macri. Macri, a business tycoon and son of
privatization, won the city-wide elections in June. As part of his
campaign, he has promised to clear out any 'okupas' or "squats" in the
city. In the week that the BAUEN hotel received the eviction notice,
more than 12 housing squats in the city were forcefully evicted.
Macri, will take office in December.
When the eviction notice came, the hotel was booked for winter break
vacation. The notice couldn't have come at a worst time. However,
workers and supporters have mobilized fast. In front of the Buenos
Aires central courts on August 5 nearly 2,000 came out to defend the
hotel. The workers cooperative presented an appeal and will continue
to lobby for the definitive legal right to the hotel.
"We believe that fighting within the legal system isn't enough. That's
why we are prepared to fight in the streets, where we are stronger,"
said Fabio Resino, a legal advisor at the hotel during an assembly.
"We ask social organizations to take on the fight for BAUEN as a fight
of their own, because the BAUEN hotel belongs to the people."
The BAUEN workers' cooperative has embarked on a national campaign to
defend their hotel and jobs. The campaign is gaining steam as the
eviction date nears in late August. Groups have planned a series of
concerts and rallies with rock stars and other television
personalities supporting the workers for the legitimate right to
defend their livelihood.
Marie Trigona is a writer, radio reporter and filmmaker based in
Argentina. She can be reached at email@example.com To watch a video on
the BAUEN struggle visit www.agoratv.org