[The plot is based on 1903 events at a locomotive factory in Tsarist Russia, but the costumes and technology seen are from the 1920s.]
An initial title card has a quote from Lenin: At the factory, all is quiet.
The word BUT (in Russian) is added, the text then animates and dissolves into images of machinery in motion.
Silhouettes of workers and machinery glide across the screen showing the daily work routine.
We see notes and leaflets being posted or passed furtively, and huddles of workers meeting while hiding from suspervisors, in bathrooms and while swimming in the nearby river.
The workers are tired of poor wages, long hours, and harsh treatment by their supervisors,.which triggers a restlessness and strike planning among them.
A title card reads "discontent is spreading," and next come shots with the stereotypical suited and booted fat director puffing on a cigar.
The images illustrate the exploitation of noble hard workers by the lazy cigar-smoking top hatted bourgeoisie.
Lower level managers approach a high level police officer with requests for spies, and the officer looks up in files the available spying agents, who have code names of animals according to their appearance and function.
A shot of an owl, always watching, thinking and cunning, dissolves into a wild eyed spy.
A fox, misleadingly beautiful and sly, dissolves into a handsome con artist.
A third spy is similarly compared to a bulldog.
In this sequence, docile dancing bears represent the workers.
The comment in one of the title frames says the owl-like spy can also see during the day, unlike a real owl, reinforcing the notion that the workers are never safe from the factory owners' spies
The administration proceeds to employ a number of these secret agents with animal code names to infiltrate and spy on the strikers.
A micrometer is stolen, with a value of 25 rubles or 3 weeks of pay.
A worker, Yakov, goes to the office to report the theft, but ends up accused of the theft himself.
The innocent man is fired, so he hangs himself on the production line and becomes a martyr, trying to escape from the stigma of being a thief, leaving a note behind to his fellow comrades declaring his innocence and including accusations about the ruling class.
News of the suicide triggers a work stoppage as word of mouth reaches various parts of the factory.
Workers throw down their tools and run out in groups to convince others.
The workers leave the milling room running, and resistance is met at the foundry.
The strikers throw rocks and loose metal through the foundry windows.
Then, locked within the gates of the complex, the crowd confronts the office.
As the workers strike one of the ring leaders proclaims " We have no cowards or traitors among us . We will stand by our demands till the end " .
They force open the gates and seize a manager, carting him off in a wheel barrow, dumping him and a foreman down a hill into the water.
The crowd disperses.
The strike is decided, and the workers gather in masses to discuss their terms.
At first, there's excitement in workers' households and in public places as they develop their demands.
Meanwhile, the fat cats upstairs are in uproar that the strike has begun.
The next sequence begins with footage of ducklings, kittens, piglets, and geese.
A child wakes his father to go to work. With no job to go to, they laugh and frolic.
The factory is shown vacant and inactive, with birds moving in.
The children act out what their fathers had done, wheelbarrowing a goat in a mob.
The director is frustrated by the arrival of orders that cannot be filled.
Demands are formulated: an 8 hour work day, fair treatment by the administration, a 30% wage increase, and a 6 hour day for minors, and conveyed to the boss.
The shareholders get involved with the director and read the demands.
They discuss the demands dismissively while smoking cigars and having drinks.
The factory bigwigs are fat men in expensive suits, drinking champagne and smoking cigars all day, laughing at the misfortune of the workers.
One of shareholders uses the demand letter to clean his shoe and a spill.
A servant uses a squeezer to squash a lemon to collect its juice, to metaphorically represent the pressure the stockholders intend to apply to the strikers.
Management rejects all demands and decides to break the strike by any means necessary
Mounted police harass the workers as they meet in nearby woods.
As the strike drags on, hunger mounts, as does domestic and civic distress.
Scenes are shown of a line forming at a store which is closed, and a baby needing food.
A fight occurs at a home between a man and a woman, triggered by the want of food, and subsequently she leaves.
Another man rummages through his home for goods to sell at a flea market, upsetting his family.
As the workers begin to fight amongst themselves, the bosses' tactics become increasingly violent.
A letter publicly posted details the administrators' reasons for rejection of the demands.
Using a hidden camera in a pocket watch, the spy named "Owl" photographs someone taking down the letter.
The photos are developed and printed, then transferred to another spy.
Management identifies the worker, and arranges for him to be beaten and captured.
That night, the director and a woman companion are enjoying a luxurious night out.
The pair gets into a chauffeured car, which is intercepted and attacked.
A violent small riot ensues, which hardens the ruling class to use greater violence against the strikers.
The first scene of the next chapter opens with dead cats dangling from a structure.
A character is introduced, "King" whose throne consists of a derelict automobile amidst rubbish, and who leads a community that lives in enormous barrels buried with only their top openings above ground.
After a deal with a tsarist police agent, "King" hires a few provocateurs from his community to set afire and loot a liquor store.
Provocateurs are in league with the police and the fire department to blame the problems on the workers.
A crowd gathers at the fire, furniture and equipment is removed from the building.
A woman runs to press the alarm, but policemen get in the way to delay the response.
The crowd leader realizes they are being set up, yells everyone to leave to avoid being provoked but are set upon by the firemen with their hoses regardless.
The governor sends in the military, mounted troops.
A child walks under the soldiers' horses and his mother goes under to get him and is struck with a whip.
Rioting commences, and the crowd is chased off through a series of gates and barriers heading to the forge, then their apartments.
The troops on horses pursue the strikers and their women, trapping and concentrating them so as to physically punish them more easily.
The mounted soldiers pursue the people up stairs and outdoor passageways, whipping everyone within reach.
Children, oblivious to the mayhem around them, are playing.
At the climax of the disturbance, a soldier grabs a child, holds it over the balcony for everyone to see, and lets go, sending the toddler to death.
A three-second shot of the child's body lying on the hard pavement has a powerful impact.
The action is intercut with a laughing police chief while the strikers are being whipped, and later massacred.
The final sequence sees pretty much all the strikers shot by the soldiers, cross cut with a sequence of shots of a cow being killed in a slaughterhouse.
A man cuts along the body of the cow with a long, sharp knife forcing blood and guts out.
The cow represents how the factory owners see the workers: as subhuman animals .
The next cut shows the laborers on strike being pursued down slopes, and shot to death en masse at the bottom, shown with alternating footage of the dying cow.
The last images are of the field strewn with corpses.
A title card by way of moral ends the film.