'Centri di Permanenza Temporanea' (Administrative Detention Centres)


the new borders of exploitation

1.The globalization project promoted after the fall of borders, walls and statues at the end of the twentieth century that was supposed to lead to the free movement of people and capital has never taken place. Capital circulates only if it violently constitutes the itineraries of money and desire. Every day new borders are constructed to reformulate the outside from the inside in the often vain attempt to prevent the movement of migrants. These lock their movement into fixed flows, both physical (illegal routes) and emotional (fear), which severely reduce the options available besides those designed for the purpose of their employment. The world is increasingly divided into areas of interest with different intensities of exploitation that are controlled by rigid hierarchies whose task is to make the pyramid structures of capitalist power function, dismembering and reassembling, incessantly if necessary, the borders of Nation States. The characteristic of this patient and increasingly pre-emptive re-territorialization derives from the militarization of energy resources, that once exhausted can easily be abandoned, and from wage differentials that allow competition to take place in a permanent situation of 'precarization' required by the present international division of labour. This is not like old-style colonialism which was tied to the obsession of total and permanent control of an entire territory. It is the management of spaces and resources according to the 'just in time' logic; in other words the adjustment in real time to market trends and to the needs of those who attempt to govern them. This involves as much hoarding and pillaging as necessary, leaving behind corpses and ruins in its wake. It is no longer carried out with heavy apparatus but with 'light' structures enforced with cluster bombs. These are the jolts of a productive system presently based on oil (but which will run out by the end of the century) that seeks to guarantee sufficient resources so as to assume an advantage with the transformation of the productive paradigm. The rich assume this defensive position as they await the end of the long 'day after' and its side effects. In the mean time, an advantageous transformation for the transnational holders of capital can be laid out while grandiose operations are waged on all borders; borders redesigned by wars, by the dismantling of the rigid vestiges of the welfare state or by resorting to biotechnologies and pharmacology.

The end of the factory does not signal the end of the fordist productive system but its segmentation, diversification and dissemination across a territory (for example, from the small businesses of North-East Italy to the plethora of call centres) in order to make struggles all the more difficult. It is no longer the case that a wage can lead to the acquisition of rights (however unsatisfactory this compromise between capital and labour may often have been). It isn't prefordism (or even postfordism) but the attempt to block the expansive power of working-class struggles, a barrier to one of the elements in the conservation of the 'American way of life' and its power that is no longer sustainable.

2. In this scenario, administrative detention centres (Centri di permanenza temporanea (Cpt)) brought in by the centre-left government in 1998 with the Turco-Napolitano law on immigration, are a true time machine. Leaving aside the hypocrisy of those who insist on calling them "centres", the Cpt are not simply prisons, despite the fact that they possess all the characteristics, but are true concentration camps ('lager'). This does not mean confusing or, worse still, identifying them with Nazi death camps, nor, on the other hand, do we intend to see Nazism as the only system where camps were a prerogative. Rather, we want to argue that if the creation of camps were possible in the past and remain possible also in 'democracies' where they have become both a system and a custom, then this is the demonstration of the deep flaws of a country's legal and political democratic culture that tend towards its negation. Through the Cpt, in fact, a double legal track (i.e. different rules for Italians and foreigners) is established, and when special legislation starts to appear the legal tracks of law easily multiply, leading to a legal pyramid made up of corporative laws whereby individuals are arranged upon a hierarchical privilege-based social ladder.

In further contrast to the prison, there is no corrective or pedagogical project in these new concentration camps other than their real objective of deportation that is central to the 'reinstatement' of the migrant into the international labour market. While the prison aspires, naturally in a very debatable way, to reinstate and rehabilitate someone who has broken the law back into society, the Cpt, on the other hand, attempt to paradoxically reintegrate through deportation. It is no longer the case of trying to recreate the citizen who has lost their way, but, it is a way of providing a labour force at a cheaper cost by through the filtering process of the Cpt. Only by being deported and deprived of everything except one's labour (and if deported a migrant can not enter legally into Italy for 10 years) is the migrant able to resurface at the limits/borders of exploitation, freed from the trimmings of welfare that probably sooner or later will be removed from all Italian workers as well. The strategy behind the functioning of the Cpt is linked to the replacement of the "permit to stay" with the "contract to stay", i.e. the impossibility for a migrant to enter legally into Italy without already being in possession of a work contract and, therefore, the impossibility of going there to look for one. The Cpt are administrative detention centres where migrants are detained without ever committing a crime or ever being sentenced by a judge: they are only 'guilty' of not possessing a regular residence permit, i.e. of being unemployed or employed irregularly (in black-market work). The definition 'temporary stay' (permanenza temporanea) is used because the Cpt is organised for the purpose of deporting the migrant without a work contract. As such, the migrant is reduced to an exclusively economic figure, deprived of any other dimension of existence: they are simply commodities.

By criminalising poverty, migrant workers are criminalised and a new type of racism is instigated. The Cpt are the emblems of the segregationist model through which racism, new forms of apartheid and slavery are being reintroduced into Italian legislature and which, in line with the intentions of right wing governments, will characterise society of the near future.

3. Just as globalization is presented as the breaking-down of barriers for commodities, capital and privileged sectors of society so that national frontiers are no longer the exclusive border of the State, the Cpt instead serve as internal borders for refugees and migrants and have their equivalent in the militarization of external borders. The freedom of movement expressed by migrants, sometimes also through their desire to escape extremely harsh working conditions, is denied by new borders and new forms of detention and exclusion that seek to control the labour force and subsequently life itself. The new immigration law of the centre-right government (the so-called Bossi-Fini law passed in 2002) conserves the institution of the Cpt and turns it into a further instrument of control over the lives of migrants and their labour, including regular immigrants who have lived in Italy for years and who have perhaps struggled to integrate into Italian society and who are now faced with an increasingly precarious situation. The Cpt aims to socially isolate migrants from networks of collective solidarity and personal affections (when this hasn't already happened with the violence that uproots them from their country and throws them into the clutches of slave traders), rendering them weaker and susceptible to blackmail. All in all, it aims to make every migrant worker illegal, whether they are regular or not, and seeks to make labour-commodity-migrant the incentive for a total transformation of the Italian labour market, in line with European restructuring and the provisions of the Schengen agreements. The illegality (clandestinità) of the migrant, therefore, is only the other face of the attempted illegalization (clandestinizzazione) of labour in its entirety, which makes all workers (Italians or otherwise) ever more flexible, and so precarious and illegal (clandestini), including those who are supposedly the most secure ('garantiti').

As well as raising the length of detention in the Cpt from 30 to a maximum of 60 days, the Bossi-Fini law intensifies their role of exclusion and control of migrants. The "contract to stay" places the migrant under the threat of a continual condition of illegality, and so work itself becomes illegal and the condition of illegality the thing that needs to be reproduced. On the one hand, the Cpt functions as a sort of decompression chamber of the labour market which allows the labour force to be controlled according to the needs of the bosses (their ability for blackmail is not at all symbolic: when migrant workers raise their voices or a recession hits in, the bosses simply sack them and call the police). On the other hand, they perpetuate the ritual of humiliation and exploitation which continually transforms the migrant into a labour force compelled to live in conditions of exclusion and marginality.

The construction of many Cpt across Italy under the centre-right government clearly intends to bolster the ideology of security politics. The 'living' conditions inside the Cpt are kept invisible as are the conditions of those people on the outside who end up inside. It is the general working conditions - the intensification of exploitation and precarity, the destruction of the future and dignity - that are hidden. This is the guilty conscience of Italy that needs to concealed from prying looks behind the reinforced concrete walls of the Cpt.

4. Now perhaps it is possible to understand why I defined the Cpt "a time machine". Detention in the Cpt does not purge the immigrant of his/her whole life (at least not always and in case this does happen….it is only the elimination of a surplus of labour; an excess product which, no longer able to be subdued, is disposed of!), but of everything that does constitute his/her labour force: family, rights, work, social relations, dignity, projects, future. This makes them literally go backwards: not only to their country, but also to the situation from which they set off from. It is like an infernal game of "snakes and ladders", where the dice are fiddled by the "contract to stay" system which forces them "back to go" and to start all over again. The management of national space and the urban arena through the raising of these new borders aims to block time: to create enclaves for the rich and ghettoes for the poor within cities; to reproduce job and wage hierarchies between regions, countries as well as between Italian workers and immigrants, regular and illegal migrants, ethnic groups and religions.

The migrant's condition becomes a mobile border that moves about the world without ever being able to change, as if it the mark of an inescapable slavery. This mark becomes 'natural' through criminalization, the spectacle with seeks to conceal the material mainstay of the migrant: production. Forced into poverty and destitution, obliged to sell themselves to survive, migrants are pushed either towards a passive acceptance of exploitation or towards criminal acts. Present-day globalization, which is perhaps only the new name for what was once called "primitive accumulation", consists in formulating borders of exploitation as a parallel and complimentary process to the free circulation of capital. By spreading new borders everywhere, i.e. new 'enclosures' (boundaries inside and outside the city, between metropolises and between industrial areas, but also between jobs and within the same jobs), which privatize common goods and generate riches for a few and poverty, precarity and illegality for many, globalization seeks to control the residual energy resources and to reduce the cost of labour. These are the two pillars behind the enduring war of the United States (but not just this) against the political role which the international working class had been able to assert through the struggles of the last 150 years.

Fabio Raimondi

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