Many urgent opportunities for action vie for attention on the eve of International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10.

Besides speedily ending the Iraq war, two areas where the new Congress can make major progress are passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, and ending the Bush administration’s vile treatment of post-Sept. 11 detainees.

The Employee Free Choice Act now before Congress has implications far beyond the workers benefiting directly from its passage. Communities and families will benefit too from a law that can help workers collectively win good union wages, benefits, job security and human rights.

In an era of ever-more vicious corporate union-busting campaigns, EFCA would expand democracy and let workers freely choose whether to form unions by signing cards authorizing representation. It would provide measures for first-contract disputes, and impose stronger penalties on law-breaking employers. Some 57 million Americans say they would like to join a union but too often run into firings, anti-worker laws and boss scare tactics.

In the present Congress, 215 House members and 43 senators are co-sponsors. Organized labor is gearing up for the next steps with a summit this weekend.

Meanwhile, the latest gruesome detainee photos to surface feature a U.S. citizen, Jose Padilla, seen in chains, eyes and ears covered, herded by guards in riot gear. Padilla, held for three and a half years without charges, has told of severe torture, and now suffers so much mentally that he cannot aid his own defense.

Of course, Padilla is only one among thousands held and tortured at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons, or shipped to prisons run by others.

The administration’s latest attempt to establish legal cover for such treatment is the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, has already introduced a law to restore basic rights to military detainees. The new Congress can now act to end the illegal and inhumane abuse of detainees.

These changes are possible, but only if the American people keep up the pressure that won a new Congress last month.