Hotel Bauen and workplace recuperation in Argentina

One of the most emblematic of the over 350 recuperated workplaces1 in Argentina is the Hotel Bauen. Located down the street from the Congressional building and close to the Pink House, Hotel Bauen is seen by all and visited by tens of thousands a year. As with most all of the workplaces in Argentina, from print, metal and ceramic shops to schools, restaurants and health clinics, the workers of the Hotel Bauen began discussing taking back their source of work after not having been paid for months and then being laid off — seeing their future as unemployed workers outside of a totally functioning, yet closed and empty workplace, they did what has become an obvious solution.

They went back inside.

Borrowing from the slogan of the Landless Movement in Brazil (MST) — Occupy, Resist, Produce! — workers in Argentina have been taking back their sources of work by the thousands. This is not just an occupation or the formation of a cooperative, however, since the workers are challenging the very foundation of private property, seeing the place where they have worked all of these years as theirs — thus the word recuperate.

I was fortunate to have been living in Argentina at the time of the retaking of the Hotel Bauen in 2003, when with hundreds of others, led by the workers, the boards were removed from the windows and we went in. It was without a doubt one of the most inspiring moments in my life. There were workers from at least a dozen recuperated workplaces, tons of participants from the then hundreds of neighborhood assemblies, unemployed workers from the movements as well as many from the newly formed autonomous media collectives — ready to record the process. And of course, most important, a core of the workers from the Hotel Bauen who had been meeting together for months in horizontal assemblies, sometimes together with workers from other recuperations, such as the print shop Chilavert and metal shop IMPA, as well as the network of recuperated workplaces, who were all supporting the process.

Since 2003, the Hotel Bauen has been run directly democratically by the workers, now numbering over 150. While the rooms are rented, and it’s functioning as a hotel as well as a café and bar, it is known amongst movement participants around the world as a crucial gathering space. The dozens of meeting rooms and the auditorium are constantly being used for everything from cultural and literary events by the movements to gatherings of political prisoner support, cooperative networks, alternative media assemblies and book fairs.

It is this use, as a hotel and central meeting space that makes the Bauen an even more important target of the political system. Almost all recuperated workplaces are forced to defend themselves, often repeatedly, even though there is a law that is allegedly there to protect the process. The workers of Bauen have had to spend a large percentage of their time and creative energies defending their workplace. This is not unintentional — but that is a topic for another article on the role of the state in disrupting, repressing and trying to co-opt movements.

There is currently another attempt to evict the Hotel Bauen, and of course a massive international campaign to defend it.

On the first night of the occupation of Bauen, as tensions were mounting, with those of us inside wondering when the police might show up and if we would be able to defend it, Guillermo, now a worker at Bauen, sat down at the grand piano in the lobby and began to play a tune he composed. It is a song that has now become the sort of hymn of the recuperated workplaces. A part of it goes:

“We are the present and the future

To resist and occupy,

The factory will not be closed

We will raise it together

 

The factory will not be closed

We will raise it together.

To Resist and Resist

And Occupy

 

To Resist and Resist

And Produce.”

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