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At the end of the 19th century, employees of a textile mill in Turin are working a 14-hour day. When a worker is injured due to carelessness fostered by overlong hours, Pautasso, Martinetti, and Cesarina petition the management for improved conditions, but they are brushed off by Baudet, a foreman. It is later decided that all workers will leave an hour early in protest, but when Pautasso gives the signal, Baudet forces the workers to remain. Pautasso is suspended for 2 weeks without pay, and others are fined. Professor Sinigaglia, a political refugee, arrives in Turin to stay with schoolteacher Maestro Di Meo. He outlines a strike, and the workers agree to the conditions. The only concession management will make, however, is the lifting of Pautasso's suspension and cancellation of the fines. The strike continues and strikebreakers are called in; when the workers meet them at the train, violence erupts and Pautasso is killed. The incident is reported by the press, and the police commissioner orders the strikebreakers out of Turin. The mill owner, realizing that he may have to concede, pressures the police into ordering the arrest of Sinigaglia, but the professor is hidden by Niobe, a prostitute. When Baudet convinces Martinetti that a return to work would be a sign of strength, Sinigaglia comes out of hiding and rallies the workers. They march to the mill where the militia fires on them and kills a 15-year-old striker. The professor is arrested, and the workers return to their jobs. Although nothing is won, the united strength of the workers has been felt for the first time.