As more troops die daily in Iraq, and more Americans are left without health care and jobs every week, voters are paying attention to who will represent them in Congress. It will be hard to change the direction of the country with a continued Republican majority in the House and Senate.

The common wisdom is that if Kerry wins by a wide margin, Democratic candidates could be swept into Congress on his coattails. As well, hard-fought races for Congress could increase the presidential vote turnout, especially in African American and Latino communities where opposition to the Bush administration is highest.

One or two additional seats in the Senate will give the Democrats the majority. In the House, 12 additional seats are needed for Nancy Pelosi to become the first woman to serve as majority leader. Even the pundits now acknowledge that such a possibility is within reach, despite partisan mid-term redistricting in Texas aimed at eliminating five Democrats.

Within months of the Bush presidency, word began circulating about extraordinary violations of the democratic process in Congress. The Republican leadership, in coordination with the White House, was blocking information and decision-making from Democratic colleagues.

Tales abounded of bills being altered in the dead of the night and rammed through in early morning sessions. The Patriot Act was pushed through in this way. Rep. Charles Rangel was threatened with arrest for entering the library where his committee meets. Last month Rep. Corinne Brown was censured for bringing to the floor the demand for oversight of the 2004 presidential election. She represents the 3rd Congressional District in Florida, where the most African American votes were suppressed in 2000.

It was only through manipulation and deceit that George Bush’s phony Medicare bill passed. The Republican leadership held voting time open five hours beyond normal rules until they could get enough votes for the measure to pass. The impact on seniors is devastating. The cost is so much larger than projected that several congressmembers say they would not have voted for it if they had known the facts.

The majority in the House and Senate determines who will chair committees, and what bills will get to the floor for a vote. With a Democratic majority in the House, John Conyers, pro-labor dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, will chair the Judiciary Committee instead of Jim Sensenbrenner, who voted wrong on most every labor issue.

A host of pro-labor candidates are vying for election to the House and Senate. While only eight Senate and 33 House races are generally considered to be competitive, additional races under the radar screen could make the difference for control of Congress.

Reversing a setback defeat in 2002, Cynthia McKinney won her primary and is virtually certain to win the general election to represent Georgia’s 4th Congressional District. McKinney was an early victim of the ultra-right assault, targeted for her fearless challenge to the Bush administration post 9/11. This year, the right wing is pursuing similar smear tactics against such progressive members of Congress as Raul Grijalva in Arizona’s 7th CD.

There are now 2,500 union activists elected to public office at the local level, including several in Congress. The new AFL-CIO goal is to reach 5,000. Union political action committees are working hard for candidates with credentials as grassroots organizers such as Frank Barbaro in New York’s 13th CD, and Barack Obama for U.S. Senate in Illinois. Obama’s election will break the color barrier in the Senate for the first time in decades.

Democracy for America, the organization that grew out of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, is focused on 24 U.S. House races in 14 states, and three U.S. Senate seats: Betty Castor in Florida, Obama in Illinois and Nancy Farmer in Missouri. The organization that emerged from Dennis Kucinich’s presidential bid is focused on 32 House races in 17 states and three Senate seats: Joe Hoeffel in Pennsylvania, Eric Fingerhut in Ohio, and Doris “Granny D” Haddock in New Hampshire.

Every effort to elect progressives to Congress deserves support. The task of undoing the privatization and militarization schemes of the current administration is a tall order. The continued voice and involvement of labor and people’s movements will be key.

Joelle Fishman is chair of the Political Action Commission of the Communist Party USA. She can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com.