Working class values are an unexploited marketing tool. But those who have analyzed them, then leveraged them have done quite well for themselves. That began with the game-changing television program about Archie Bunker and continues today with the music of Bruce Springstein.
As the AFL-CIO struggles to rebrand itself at a time of declining union membership, it could consider showcasing how good-for-America this ethos is. Before post-World War II affluence took hold, so many of us Baby Boomers came of age in working class neighborhoods. Despite the usual human pettiness, gossip, and envy, there was the sense of deep caring. We got through whatever, including exiting poverty, through solidarity.
Among the traditional cast of neighborhood characters were the yenta who knew everyone and got people jobs; the parish priest who straightened out the drunk fathers; mothers who fed the kids of families which we call "dysfunctional" today; and hustlers who taught us how to make a buck. At my older sister's wake in 2001 in Edison, New Jersey, those from the "old neighborhood" in downtown Jersey City, NJ wept about how that time had been the happiest in their lives. Many of those were wealthy, living in big houses in the NJ suburbs.
The AFL-CIO can position the blue collar mindset and behavior as the way to bring America back from greed and alienation. It can show that we can still build individual and collective wealth without destroying the little guy and that no one has to bowl alone. Success in America no longer has to mean a zero-sum game.