Tamoszius Kuszeika, the frail fiddle player from the wedding feast, and Marija fall in love. Tamoszius courts her, playing fiddle in the kitchen and taking her to dances on the weekends. They plan to marry in the spring. But then, suddenly the canning factory shuts down due to lack of demand and Marija is put out of work. She scours Packingtown and beyond for jobs, but is unable to find one.
Whenever human love and hope surfaces, the malevolent forces of the industry intervene. Marija's hopes of happiness with Tamoszius are crushed when she suddenly loses her job at the canning factory.
The men are also affected by the seasonal slump and must wait in the freezing stockyards until the first animals arrive, sometimes not till the late afternoon, and stay late into the night to slaughter them. The bosses cheat men of their pay by docking them an hour for being one minute late and not paying them for work if it falls short of a full hour. Now aware of the exploitation by the bosses of the workers, Jurgis becomes interested in defending his rights, and he and his family join the union.
The profit-driven owners and bosses cheat the men to try to get as much work out of them as possible for as little money. Though initially, Jurgis did not understand why workers needed to defend their rights, he has now become aware of the injustice in the industry and joins the workers' union because it is the only defense against the abuse that is built into the system.
After the canning factory shuts down, Marija goes to a union meeting and causes an uproar by delivering an impassioned speech in Lithuanian. Jurgis also attends union meetings and becomes a convert to the worker's cause, helping to spread the word to other workers.