As working culture has been lost with increasing factory closure and joblessness, workers at Hotel Bauen Foresta want to take back their culture and their dignity—to teach the community that workers can run a business even better without a boss or owner.

Nationwide in Argentina, thousands of factories have closed and millions of jobs have been lost in recent years. Today, unemployment stands at 19.5% and underemployment at nearly 16%, meaning that over a third of workers (approximately 5.2 million) cannot find adequate employment. Half of the population lives in poverty. But many compañeros have stood up to resist against this destiny.

Argentina’s occupied factories movement represents the development of an advanced strategy in defense of the working class and in resistance against capitalism. The experiences of worker self-management/organization have directly challenged capitalism’s structures by questioning private property, taking back workers’ knowledge, and organizing production for objectives other than profits.

Marie Trigona forms part of Grupo Alavío. Grupo Alavío has been producing videos for a new working class subjectivity for over 10 years. They have been working closely with the workers at BAUEN hotel on a number of video projects. The group can be reached at [log in to unmask] or

BAUEN Hotel: Struggle, culture and work

By Marie Trigona

"I came back to BAUEN in a different way, working as part of cooperative under worker self-management/organization. This isn't easy for workers because we have been oppressed and exploited for centuries," said Marcelo, current president of BAUEN cooperative, an impressive 20-story hotel in downtown Buenos Aires.

On December 28, 2001 after systematic firings and management ransacking rooms, 150 hotel workers were left in the street. The hotel was constructed in 1978, in the glory of the military dictatorship, with government loans and subsidies. For almost three decades, the hotel has been emblematic symbol of Argentina's bourgeois class.

In March 21, 2003 the workers decided to occupy the hotel. Some 40 members of the current cooperative met secretly and early in the morning they met on the corner of one of Buenos Aires' busiest street intersections. Along with workers from other recuperated factories and the support of MNER (National Movement of Recuperated Enterprises) the group took over the building, cutting the locks on the side entrance and walking into the lobby. The workers found the hotel dilapidated, without electricity and ransacked. For months the cooperative members stood guard inside the hotel, while they put up a legal fight to form up a cooperative.

They cleaned up the hotel and slowly began to rent out services. In December 2004 they inaugurated the front café, an eye-catching space in Buenos Aires' theatre district. The floor is covered with beautiful high-quality porcelain tile, a trade between worker controlled Zanon ceramics factory and BAUEN. Regularly, Zanon workers and other social activists put on activities and stay at the hotel while visiting Buenos Aires. On any given night the hotel is bustling with culture: theatre, cocktail parties, tango performances and radio shows to name a few. Marcelo says that the cooperative knows that workers are able to do what capitalist employers aren't interested in doing: created more jobs and better salaries. "Today, everyone employed at BAUEN makes 800 pesos. We hired over 85 workers. Thanks to the workers' efforts, we opened up the café, improved the facilities and equipped more than 200 hotel rooms."

The weight of oppression on the shoulders of the working class is heavy and constant. The 150 workers have finally lifted up their heads and defiantly looked in the eyes of the symbols of employers, the BAUEN hotel has become a symbol for the working class."With worker self-management/organization we are in a process of creating workers in solidarity, people who aren't only worried about a wage. Instead they're trying to improve social conditions, culturally and politically," explains Marcelo.

"Let's go BAUEN, we're never going to close!" Damián, a young workers recently hired by the cooperative, yells out rallying solidarity activists at the hotel's entrance at 8am on a Sunday morning. On June 5, hundreds gathered outside the hotel to prevent city inspectors from raiding the hotel and closing it down. A few days before the inspection, the cooperative marched to Buenos Aires city legislature to demand a legal solution. For two years, the cooperative has functioned without legal permits to rent out the hotel's rooms. The delegates, who entered the city legislature said, "the government officials were annoyed because they say we are negotiating and they we don't need to protest." However, the government has been dragging its feet to provide a legal solution for the cooperative.

The recent closure was ordered by a judge after the former management (owned by Icovich, who is now running other hotels in Buenos Aires and Brazil) reported the cooperative for renting out the hotel rooms. City authorities strategically showed up on a Sunday morning, expecting a lonely hotel. However, when the inspectors showed up hundreds were waiting for them in the reception area, shouting slogans: "BAUEN belongs to the workers and if you don't like it go to hell!" The inspectors nervously ordered the hotel's closure, knowing that the cooperative would defy the order.

Gladys a combative and vehement worker at the cooperative has warned that the workers will never give up their hotel. Since a tragic fire killed 194 people in the Cromagnon night club, the government has used fire inspections as an excuse to close down independent culture in the city. The club's owner, Omar Chaban (a businessman now walking free after his release from jail last week) insisted that the club's emergency exits be chained. Rather than investing in proper installations (ventilation fans, sound absorption and emergency exits) he had a Styrofoam ceiling built and only one ventilation fan. Most of the fans at the rock show died of toxic asphyxiation while trapped inside the club. "If they remove us from the hotel, the government is going to have a second Cromagnon because they're going to have to kill all of us and our families," said Gladys.

"It's easy to cover your eyes, turn into businessmen in order to create wages. And then begin to exploit our compañeros. We can't lose our roots as workers and more than anything we know that BAUEN should belong to the workers," said Marcelo. In the midst of a legal struggle and successfully running a prominent hotel the cooperative's members haven't forgotten their roots. BAUEN has become a political center. "Today the hotel is successful and working in solidarity with many worker conflicts. Groups working for the release of political prisoners, 6-hour work day and many other social movements meet here in the hotel," explains a train worker delegate, "Pollo" Sobrero.

The government has refused to pass an expropriation law and give BAUEN's workers a permanent legal solution to continue working. Politicians have expressed their disapproval of the hotel opening its doors to workers in struggle. However, BAUEN aren't won't give up their fight for their hotel and to defend all workers in struggle.

Claudia, a health worker in the southern province of Neuquen recently visited the BAUEN hotel for the first time. Public health workers in this province have been on strike for over two months and provincial police cracked down, using repressive methods against the workers. Neuquen is also the home to worker controlled factory Zanon. She explains, "This hotel is an open space for workers in struggle. When we visit Buenos Aires we stay at the hotel. As the community in Neuquen are willing to defend Zanon, we all are willing to defend BAUEN."

The BAUEN cooperative is in a permanent assembly, struggling against the threats and possible permanent closure of the hotel. The workers at BAUEN need and deserve international solidarity. BAUEN has been a concrete experience in the fight against exploitation of oppressed sectors and continues planting seeds for new social relations.

To contact Hotel BAUEN:

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