Axel Nordmann (John Cassavetes) takes a job as a dock laborer and is continually harassed by his tyrannical supervisor, Charles Malik (Jack Warden). Malik knows a secret from Axel's past, forcing the young worker to endure his boss's torment. Eventually, Axel befriends Tommy Tyler (Sidney Poitier), an African-American co-worker with a managerial job. Tommy teaches Axel to respect himself. However, Malik, a racial bigot, is threatened by Tommy's confidence, and the situation turns violent.