Working in the Unconscious Masses: Inside a Mega-Retail Store in the United States


  • Wyatt Nelson



working class, proletariat, individualism, class consciousness, collectivism, retail, workplace, surveillance, atomizations, isolation, management techniques


Workers in the United States tend to seek individual solutions to social problems. Through personal narrative and references to academic literature, this essay explores consciousness and control in modern retail work. The essay identifies a lack of class consciousness at one workplace in particular and also seeks to explain the individualism of workers in general. I present three causes of individualism: the dominant idea that collective action is impossible, the current precarious economic situation of workers, and the effects of management techniques. Solutions based in building our real-life social networks and committing ourselves to material solidarity are suggested. In general, we can reorient ourselves to think of collective solutions. To orthodox followers of Marx, it seems self-evident that the concentration of wage-workers in towns, cities, factories, retail stores, warehouses, etc. would lend itself to the realization of the collective interests of wage-workers in proletarian struggle. To some extent, this historical observation has proved true. Yet there are significant elements of the wage-earners, especially in the United States, that pursue (usually ineffective) individual solutions to their economic woes. In short, we are isolated from each other. This short commentary seeks to frame the issue, explore the reasons behind it, and offer solutions to this contemporary problem.