Elia Kazan's film of On The WaterfrontAt the end of the film, how does Terry change? What does he learn?
A union is supposed to be run on democratic principles. The members elect the officers, and important issues, such as strikes, are decided by voting by all members. Terry's union has been taken over by criminals and is no longer democratic. The "officials" make deals with the ship owners to the detriment of the stevedores. The members are afraid to protest or to cooperate with the federal investigators. At the end of the film Terry has learned that the mobsters running his union are only interested in enriching themselves and not in helping the union members improve their wages or working conditions. He learns, largely through the influence of the crusading Catholic priest, that somebody has to take the initiative and the risk of standing up against the mobsters by being completely honest, by refusing to cooperate with them, and by refusing to go along with the petty corruption which has contaminated the union, which includes bidding for jobs and engaging in petty pilfering from the cargoes. In defying the criminals running his union, Terry regains his dignity and self-respect as a human being; he is no longer a "bum," as he has described himself to his brother. He also regains the affection and respect of the girl he loves.