1980s >> 1984 >> no-963-november-1984

Trouble at t’Mint

As a medium of exchange, money symbolises a means to an end: the production of surplus value by the working class — the foundation of capitalism. However, money has another role, also important, and that is to convey the ideology of capitalism. For instance, a fifty pence coin proclaims in its design the need for leadership, false notions such as nationalism and patriotism and all the claptrap that goes with them. To reinforce these ideas in the minds of the working class, special coins and medals are minted to celebrate such insignificant non-events as royal weddings, births and jubilees. On a more dangerous level they are also struck to glorify the butchery of misguided wage slaves in capitalist adventures like the Falklands War, where many members of the working class were killed and maimed in the interest of the Coalite Company and other concerns both British and Argentine. This conveys the idea that class dominated society is the natural order of things and was, is, and ever shall be forever and ever and ever, amen. But if coins and medals showed the reality of capitalism — people starving in a world of plenty while the bloodsuckers grow fat, the soldier bleeding his life away in the interests of Capital, rivers polluted by the industrial filth poured into them, that would encourage its demise.

Numerous skills are employed to perpetuate these deceptions. For example, it is the die designers and engravers who are the creme de la creme in producing the images we see when money changes hands. For those ignorant of such matters, the Queen’s head symbolises a caring monarchy and embodies the idea of the nuclear family and the maintenance of the delicate balance between state machinery and “democracy”.

However important all of this is, the prime motive of mints the world over is to make profits for their owners, be they state or private and. as with all other processes subject to the laws of the market place, they are forced to compete world wide for a share of the market. The Royal Mint at Llantrisant is no exception, and this was one reason it was moved from the site at Tower Hill.

But why Llantrisant when London is considered the hub of the financial world and has all the prestige associated with it? It must be remembered that at the time Big Jim Callaghan was Chancellor and, by some coincidence, his constituency was (and still is) only a few miles away. Another coincidence was that the Labour Government was taking a battering from the Welsh Nationalist Party over its attacks on the living standards of the working class. Also, since the Labour Party had decimated the local coal mining industry, there was a ready supply of cheap labour power.

Initially, the Mint’s fortunes soared, with high demand for its products, both at home and overseas. It even won a Queen’s Award for Export. However, after this initial euphoria, things began to turn sour, despite the cheap labour and automated plant and inflation making paper money less valuable. Apart from the recession, which was bad enough, the competition has refused to go away. Indeed some of the Mint’s major competitors have invested in new plant, forcing the Mint to do the same again. Added to this, many of the old customers have started to produce their own coinage and to export it. The introduction of more automated plant means more “voluntary” redundancies and, with the commitment to “a quantum leap in technology” [1] over the next three years, even more can be expected. With wages kept down and productivity increased the remaining workforce face even more ruthless exploitation.

Coinage production faces competition from the use of credit cards and increasing numbers of people using bank accounts and cheques, which has led to a decrease in the amount of small change in circulation. However capitalism will always need a form of exchange, be it plastic tokens, metal coins, or sugar-coated sweets, and so the Mint is attempting to overcome the rising cost factor by introducing the manufacture — as have their competitors — of base metal coins clad in non-ferrous metal such as brass, nickel and copper. It is hoped that this process will give a saving of 30 per cent over the cost of the standard coin. With these coins the Mint hopes to win back many of the customers it has lost to the competition. This loss is reflected in figures that show that overseas sales, once 80 per cent of output, have dropped to 50 per cent. To the workforce, these trends of a shrinking market and more competition mean that the Mint has not passed the point where . . . “we can chip away at productivity through more flexibility in manpower and smaller numbers”. [2] . . . for obviously, by producing a coin with a longer life, the market shrinks still further and only serves to prolong the cycle of international competition.

It is worth mentioning that despite the “Royal” tag the state is in firm control, setting financial and production targets, hiring and firing. Other coin producers in this country such as IMI, De la Rue and Birmingham Mint Products also come under the indirect control of the state. It is not for nothing that the workforce have cynically coined the phrase “The Mint with the hole”, with a few members of the workforce playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Ministry of Defence Police in trying to supplement their meagre resources by helping themselves to the product which they have produced. But the MOD Police — sometimes called the dole in uniform — and the forces of law hold all the aces. For as well as preventing unwelcome visitors getting in, they can be deployed to stop the workforce going out. Under the logic of capitalism, taking advantage of international fluctuations of commodity prices is considered legal, but it is illegal for the workers to try to take what they have produced.

As well as producing coins, the Mint also turns out “Mintos” — not a sweet, but someone usually found among management — workers who run the system on behalf of their masters — and who is imbued with the work ethic, believing it to be an honour to be exploited at the Royal Mint. These people typify the way workers are conned into a blind acceptance of capitalism. However when the workers decide to rid themselves of their masters they too will be active participants in a society of their own choosing. Whereas in the words of Dr DJ. Gerhardt, Deputy Master and Comptroller: “you are probably concerned to know whether we can now look forward to a prosperous future free from worries about job losses and redundancy. I have to reply that much will depend on circumstances outside our direct control, notably overseas demand for circulating coin, on the amount of money available to our customers for the purchase of collectors’ coins”. [3] Even the capitalists cannot control their own system. It is time for the working class to organise a society where money, not people will be redundant.


[1,2]: Sunday Times, 15 April 1984.
[3] Personal letter to Mint staff, July 1982.