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E. Lund

“Letters of Release”
A New Runaway Slave Law

(April 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 17, 26 April 1943, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A new man started working in our shop the other day. He was a toolmaker by trade. Age: in the late fifties.

Yesterday afternoon the superintendent came out and spoke to him. The man looked worried. He put on his hat and coat. When asked, “What’s up?” he replied:

“My old boss is after me. He found out where I am working and notified the Manpower Commission office. They called here and now I have to go down to see them.”

The next morning at 10:30 the man came in and with a crestfallen look began packing up his tools.

“It’s no use. Got to go back to that sonova...... boss of mine. He won’t give me a letter of release. If it weren’t for the war I would put a couple of his machines on the blink. Shove you right in jail if anything happens now. He will be watching me like a hawk. Might as well be working in Germany. What’s this war about, anyway?”


The history books tell us of a great fight over a law we are reminded of when we see things like the above. It was a law called the Runaway Slave Act. It was passed through Congress by the powerful slave-owners’ bloc in the 1850’s. The law gave a slave owner the right to ask the government to arrest and return a runaway slave, no matter where he went, even in “free” states. The courts upheld the law. Federal officials enforced it. Yes, the judges and politicians worked hand in glove with the slave owners in those days just as they do with the capitalists today. And most of the newspaper editors, then as now, added their blessing.

Is it far-fetched to compare “letters of release” with the Runaway Slave Law? Not if you are a worker in a shop where conditions are unbearable and they won’t let you go. Have you ever been on a job where the foreman had it in for you and rode the life out of you? Have you ever been given monotonous work so it came out of your ears and you felt you couldn’t stand the sight of it? Have you ever been stuck on a “graveyard shift” month after month with no hope of change? Have you ever worked the evening shift while your wife worked days? Have you ever worked for a company that was so cheap and chiseling and strict that yon wanted to go elsewhere just so you could breathe freely again?

And then been told that they would not release you?

Or, if by some means you got another job, they reached out and hauled you back to the old slavery?

Well, if you have lived through it, as hundreds of thousands of workers do, you will agree that Roosevelt’s “Letters of Release” order is nothing but a NEW RUNAWAY SLAVE ACT.

But let the powers-that-be read their history books. The Runaway Slave Law hastened a bloody civil war in this country.

Do they believe free labor will stand for these new chains being forged in the name of a “war for democracy”? Do they believe our generation to be too servile and cringing to act as did the abolitionists of eighty years ago? Every recent strike, from the anthracite miners to the Boeing Aircraft workers, should teach them what they are in for.

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