As this is my first post, I figure it will be useful to provide a brief introduction of who I am and what my intents are during my time with Open Movements. My name is Matthew, and I am a sociology undergrad who is currently studying in the United Arab Emirates. As a current student of sociology, but with a background in the history and current events of Latin America, I was struck by the concept of recovered businesses when I first learned about them in January of this year. In January I had come to Argentina to partake in a sociology course about world metropolises, with a special focus on Buenos Aires. Recovered businesses were mentioned as a unique facet of the structure of the city and the nation as a whole, and I became immediately fascinated by the concept of these pioneering cooperatives. While searching for internships during the months of June through August, I came across Open Movements, and I knew that the opportunity was designed for my interests and I felt that I could bring a fresh perspective onto the scene. Recovered businesses have been studied extensively as economic and political phenomena, but relatively less research has been done on their social prominence: how relationships are built and maintained within the cooperative, how new employees are welcomed, and simply how people interact with one another on a daily basis in this rare environment. These studies are what I will focus on for the next couple of months, which I hope will be an engaging insight into the heart and soul of a recovered business.
I arrived in Argentina roughly a week ago, and on Thursday I was able to meet with Diego Ruarte at the Hotel Bauen – a recovered business in the heart of Buenos Aires and the headquarters of Open Movements in Argentina – in order to discuss my work for the next couple of months. Before I sat down to discuss with him, his father, Marcelo, and some other coworkers in the cooperative greeted me. I already began to observe a very tranquil environment in the hotel; although the operations were smooth and efficient and the business maintained a very polished reputation, the interactions between workers seemed relaxed and jovial. Having worked in similar establishments in the United States, this attitude surprised and impressed me, as I am accustomed to the overwhelmingly cold and cutting remarks a person of rank might make to an employee in order to ensure something is completed. However, this impressed me vastly, and I hope that as I get to know the Hotel Bauen better, as well as other recovered business, I will be able to study these interactions more.
The history of Hotel Bauen is fascinating. It was established during the military dictatorship of Argentina in 1978 as a playground for wealthy nationals and foreigners alike. The government had strong ties to the hotel, which received generous government funding to stimulate its growth. However, as Argentina’s economy began to deteriorate throughout the military regime and even in the advent of successive governments, the Hotel Bauen began to approach bankruptcy. Debts were not paid, workers were not paid, and after the economic crisis hit Argentina in 2001, the Hotel Bauen was not able to hang on much longer. After months of the employees being promised pay that they would never receive, the owner of the Hotel Bauen abruptly fled on December 28th of that same year, taking his assets with him, leaving the hotel empty and his workers without a job. The workers suffered for a year and a half in the terrible economic conditions of the nation, many without work and struggling to feed their families. Finally, a small group banded together and decided to salvage the business as a cooperative, in which every worker in the hotel would collaborate to run the enterprise and all receive the same rate of pay and influence despite their position. At the beginning, many workers had doubts, especially due to the horrid condition that the former owner had left the Hotel Bauen in. But after a few years of hard work and the acceptance of the temporarily meager salaries that all were receiving, the hotel began to turn a profit. The hotel is now a great symbol of success, maintaining the high standards set by its former governmental support but now available to a much more diverse clientele. Hotel Bauen represents the amazing power of a cooperative business to thrive despite unfavorable capitalist surroundings. While the former owner is now reclaiming the business as his own, stating that the cooperative workers illegally retook the hotel and have no right to work there without his approval and direction, the staff of the Hotel Bauen have been fighting tirelessly in court to prove their right to work. As of now, the government has not arrived at a conclusive decision, but the workers at the Hotel Bauen are confident that the plea to humanity will be successful.
When I met with Diego, he reiterated most of what the video had taught me, and elaborated on current politics. He explained to me that the Hotel Bauen is essentially the headquarters of the recovered business movement in Argentina, and that most of the enterprises had banded together to form a union that would fight for full rights from the government. Despite their vast importance in leading a movement for an entire nation, Diego and the rest of the Hotel Bauen staff seemed remarkable nonchalant. I believe that this attitude highly favors the movement. As I mentioned before, interactions between workers of different ranks within the hotel are always amicable, a characteristic much less common in a traditional capitalist business. The workers in the Hotel Bauen truly work for one another, for their benefits and those of their colleague, with the hope that everyone’s lives will be bettered. They are true fighters for their right to work, and the success of such a relaxed yet effective environment will surely be recognized by the government and, with luck, the world in its entirety.
These first observations are limited due to my lack of a strong relationship with Hotel Bauen, but I hope to forge that during my time here in Argentina. I want to get to the core of social interaction within the business, and with interviews and further field notes, I believe I will be able to achieve this. Soon I will be able to meet with other recovered businesses in Buenos Aires and other parts of Argentina. Ultimately, my relationships with them and the research I gather should form an incredible perspective into the sociology of the cooperative movement.