During the 1930s and 40s when unions were becoming powerful, being a working man meant something, It meant being part of a group of people who cared passionately about each other and about their union.
Acknowledging that you were a working man wasn't a problem for Union people. They knew they weren't rich and most of them knew that they were probably never going to become rich. They knew who they were, and they knew who the other guys were - and that was okay.
Over the years things changed. The children of those working men wanted something more. You got that something more by putting on a white shirt - a sign that your job didn't require you to come home with dirty hands.
If the white shirt didn't work out, the union gave you a chance at two other things -- more money and more power over your own life.
The Democratic Party still talks about standing up for the working class.
But none of them want to be part of that working class.
Many of those who are part of the working class do their best to pretend that their lives are more than they are. The working class is always someone else.
It's status. A good journeyman plumber made more money than the guy in the white shirt. Most people knew that and they still preferred the white-collar job. After 20 or so years, the white-collar guy might even make as much money as the plumber. The plumber would never make any more money unless he went into business for himself.
As of today, the "working man" has no place to call home.
We need to invent or define a new group. Perhaps we could invent a modern-day Viking. The key idea of a Viking is that he takes what he wants. He's not a regimented slave. He doesn't bow down to some king of Wall Street. He puts up with them, knowing that at the first opportunity he's going to take it all back.
If you think the idea of a modern-day Viking is silly, you're welcome to come up with your own replacement. It doesn't matter what you call them. What matters is group identity -- a group that someone actually wants to belong to.
Having said the above, I suddenly noticed that the kind of group I was talking about almost exists. They aren't Vikings and they don't get to take what they want. What we have now is "startups" and "entrepreneurs".
Being part of a startup has its own kind of glamour. A number of people who know nothing about business are trying very hard to join the movement. If you're not actually part of a startup, You can reinvent yourself as someone who helps make startups successful. There are a lot of people who will have lunch with you to discuss the possibilities. (This does not include real entrepreneurs who are too busy working to have lunch.)
At this point in time, it's not necessary for a startup to actually earn any money. Being in business and making some money destroys the mystique. A bottom line number can be disheartening. Startups are about the billions that the company is going to make - next year.