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In Argentina, companies taken over by employees are on the rise.
A takeover generally begins with the workers taking shifts, so there are employees in the building around the clock to prevent former owners and the police from entering and removing any capital assets. "As long as the machines are here, we know we will have work," explained Veronica Cuervo as she worked the night guard shift at Indugraf, a textbook printing press where she worked for 14 years until the owner closed shop and fired all of the company's 88 workers in November.
It sounds like a page out of Karl Marx, and this political significance is not lost on any of the academics or activists observing the takeovers. Many political groups with socialist agendas have gotten involved over the years. But most of the takeovers are rooted in self-preservation, not politics.
It's politics, though, that keeps the workers safe.
Very few cooperatives have actually managed to get through the legal expropriation process, and many of them, like Hotel Bauen, are facing eviction notices. But they tend to have a lot of public support — many have invested in local community centers and schools — and so the political cost to the authorities of forcibly removing them can be too high.
Maria del Valle, a security guard at the Hotel Bauen, remembers when she and 500 other employees and supporters barricaded the hotel's doors and gathered in one of the ballrooms while the police were outside threatening to remove them. There were also 70 guests in the hotel who were given the option to leave, but del Valle says most decided to stay with the workers, making a police invasion virtually unthinkable.
"Legality and legitimacy in Argentina are not necessarily the same," notes journalist and activist Esteban Magnani, who has written a book about cooperative takeovers. The recuperated businesses have built so much social legitimacy that Veronica Cuervo of Indugraf says that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's administration recently gave them subsidies as they sat in their occupied factory waiting for a license to begin producing.
But Cuervo says the subsidies are not a sustainable solution. What they want is to get back to work, and she thinks government officials will allow them to do that soon — if only to legitimize themselves in advance of the upcoming elections.