The Bauen began its history as a recovered business March 21, 2003, a year and almost three months after its closure. Its workers had been left on the street in the middle of Argentina’s biggest economic crisis in decades, a crisis that was also social and political, and the end did not seem to be anywhere in sight.
The year 2002 had been convulsive: mobilizations every day, exponential growth of the picket movement and neighborhood assemblies, while savings account holders scammed by the “corralito” pounded on banks, and bartering had become a medium of exchange for subsistence. The murder of Darío Santillán and Maximiliano Kosteki on the 26th of June on Pueyrredón Bridge had set the stage for the departure of Eduardo Duhalde and, by the beginning of 2003, a confusing electoral campaign took place, in which there was hardly any distinction between the five leading candidates. A short time later, with Carlos Menem declining to compete in the elction, Néstor Kirchner would come to power with a degree of political weakness rarely seen in a recently elected president, having won only 22% of the votes.
Meanwhile, a new movement had developed and become visible: the movement of businesses recovered by their workers. While its background dated to the early ’90s, notable cases like Zanon [a ceramics factory], IMPA [metalworking and plastics factory], Chilavert [print shop], and Brukman [clothing factory] had made it visible to a good part of society. Its defense of jobs in factories and businesses that had been stripped and abandoned by their former owners had given it recognition, and more importantly, legitimacy. In a society in which work had become a scarce and much-desired resource, the struggle to continue working was valued by a large majority of society, and the workers who occupied bankrupt businesses achieved enough success to pressure functionaries and legislators. The most noteworthy result of that capacity for pressure was the passage of expropriation laws, as happened with Brukman, Chilavert, and Ghelco, among others, in the Legislature of the City of Buenos Aires, a few months before the takeover of the Bauen. This did not mean that the issue was easy to resolve—quite the opposite—but some mechanisms were in place, and doors had been opened through the mobilization of organized workers, mostly in the National Movement of Recovered Businesses (MNER).
One of the main demands of this movement, by then, was the reform of the bankruptcy law, which had been modified during the government of Carlos Menem according to the dictates of the IMF, turning it into a mere mechanism for the liquidation of businesses. The law facilitated business asset stripping (a crime that existed in the prior law and was deleted in this reform) and prioritized the auction of goods and payment to creditors over the preservation of jobs and continuity of economic use. It was legislation at the service of the destruction of industrial equipment and jobs. This law would be of great importance in the legal trouble the Iurcoviches had caused in the bankruptcy of the Bauen.