All this writing and opinion-giving about our economic problems and what’s needed to get the nation out of the financial ditch sent me back to the writings of young Jack Kerouac in the collection I edited, “Atop an Underwood.” In 1941, when he was 19 years old, Kerouac wrote a short story titled “The Birth of a Socialist,” which is based on his short-lived job as a factory worker at the Megowan Educator Food Company at 27 Jackson Street (The business was also known as Educator Biscuit or “The Crax”—one product was “Beer Chasers” crackers. Passersby on Market Street could smell the latest batch of goods being baked.) He saw enough on the cookie-and-cracker production line to make him imagine a better way for the workers. In a related document called “Kerouac’s Socialism,” not included in “Atop,” he proposes a plan for structuring the working world.
Here’s a section of my headnote to the short story:
He even devised a plan called Kerouac’s Socialism in which he argued that shorter working hours would create more jobs. With a two- or three-hour limit per worker, there could be three working shifts in an eight- to ten-hour day. He wrote, ‘Shorter hours will provide the laborer with a new desire to live, not to be a productive animal, but to have time to be a man, to have time to enjoy the rights of man in the use of his divine intellect, a gift of God that is overlooked by our overlords of the present Industrial Era.’
If Kerouac was going to have to earn a living by doing work that looked like what most other people did for a living, he wanted to be sure that the system he worked in would accommodate his desire to be a literary writer, an artist. My guess is that he was reading Massachusetts native Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” at the time, which my father knew all about. My father was three years older than Kerouac and shared the same background, so it’s not a leap to think bright young people in Lowell had read Bellamy.