The Waterfront Crime Commission is about to hold public hearings on union crime and underworld infiltration.
As workers are turned against each other, Terry Malloy inadvertently participates in the murder of fellow longshoreman Joey Doyle.
Union boss Johnny Friendly orchestrates the murder along with other illegal dockside activities, aided by Terry's brother Charley.
Terry begins to feel pangs of conscience.
When Joey's sister Edie sees more in Terry than he sees in himself and Father Barry urges him on, Terry reassesses his past and begins to regain responsibility for his actions.