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I am desperately looking for the name of a story I've read quite a few years back. I can't remember all the details, but maybe provide enough for someone to identify it.

In this story there is a very large factory and every morning a huge number of workers is brought into this factory to do some kind of useless work ... in my memory they screw in lightbulbs, but I might be wrong there. All day, they do this useless stupid task and then the night shift comes and just undoes all the work from the previous shift, so that the morning shift can do it all over...

Help is dearly appreciated ;-)

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  • what in particular about the story is science fiction / fantasy? From what is given, it could just as easily be a political satire (which would be off-topic here)
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 5, 2017 at 21:43
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    A question weirdly like this one has been asked just a few hours ago: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/171130/…
    – LSerni
    Oct 5, 2017 at 21:48

1 Answer 1

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"The Good Work" by Theodore L. Thomas; first published in If, February 1959, whose full text is available at the Internet Archive.

See our previous story-identification question Utopia where no one has to work, but people want to work anyway, which is where I've got all of this answer.

every morning a huge number of workers is brought into this factory to do some kind of useless work ... in my memory they screw in lightbulbs

"Yes, Mr. Winthrop. We have a job for you, and the full six hours a day, too. You will be on the maintenance crew of your building. Your job is explained here—" he passed over a card—"and it consists of tightening the nuts on the expansion joints in the framework of the building. It is very important to do it right, so read the card carefully." Winthrop nodded eagerly.

and then the night shift comes and just undoes all the work from the previous shift, so that the morning shift can do it all over

Winthrop walked in and the two men stood looking at each other. Winthrop was surprised at how well Barlow looked, and he said so.

Barlow laughed. "Yes, the last time we met I was pretty far down in the dumps. But I'm working, Jeremiah. I'm actually working. Important work, too!"

His enthusiasm was infectious and Winthrop found himself laughing. "I'm glad for you, John. And I know how you feel, because I'm working too."

[…]

There was an exchange of goodbyes, and Winthrop left.

Barlow went into the other room and came out immediately with his wrench. He waved it playfully at his wife. "Got to go," he said. "The loosening crew won't wait." And he blew a kiss at his wife and went off to work.

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  • Thank you so much! That's it. In my memory it was little shorter, but that was probably we just read an excerpt in class! Thanks so much!
    – Jules
    Oct 5, 2017 at 21:56
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    And yet... two people remembering what is clearly the same story, but both misremembering the same detail - tightening nuts becomes something unlikely as screwing in broken lightbulbs? I half suspect that someone poached TL Thomas's story...
    – LSerni
    Oct 5, 2017 at 21:56
  • @LSerni This question doesn't say broken lightbulbs. It just says plain lightbulbs. That's not as unlikely, although the orignal makes for a better story.
    – b_jonas
    Oct 5, 2017 at 21:58
  • @LSerni can we bring all this discussion to chat instead? It's getting OT here. chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/58631/…
    – b_jonas
    Oct 5, 2017 at 22:09

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