The action of the play is comprised of a series of varied, imaginatively conceived episodes, which blend into a powerful and stirring mosaic. The opening scene is a hiring hall where a union leader (obviously in the pay of the bosses) is trying to convince a committee of workers (who are waiting for their leader, Lefty, to arrive) not to strike. This is followed by a moving confrontation between a discouraged taxi driver, who cannot earn enough to live on, and his angry wife, who wants him to show some backbone and stand up to his employer; a revealing scene between a scheming boss and the young worker who refuses to spy on his fellow employees; a sad/funny episode centering on a young cabbie and his would-be bride, who lack the wherewithal to get married; a disturbing scene involving a senior doctor and the underpaid young intern (a labor activist) whom the doctor has been ordered to discharge; and, finally, a return to the union hall where the workers, learning that Lefty has been gunned down by the powers-that-be, resolve at last to stand up for their rights and to strike—and to stay off their jobs until their grievances are finally heard and acted upon by those who have so cynically exploited and misused them.
One of the most celebrated and significant plays of the modern American theatre. Set in the Depression era, and dealing with the cynical exploitation of the working classes, the play, which was first presented by the famous Group Theatre, became both a symbol of its times and a beacon for many soon-to-be-famous playwrights who came under its influence.