As Zimbabwe’s July 31 presidential elections approach, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), one of the country’s only nonpolitical, mass-based movements, plans to actively promote free and fair elections and, equally important, hold lawmakers accountable after elections.

“Politicians must be made accountable. We must make it easy for politicians to lose their positions if they don’t deliver,” said Japhet Moyo, ZCTU secretary general, in an interview this week at the Solidarity Center in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, Moyo was among speakers at an all-day conference, “Beyond the Elections in Zimbabwe,” sponsored in part by the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy. The conference brought together Zimbabwean officials, civil society activists, political analysts and U.S. government representatives to focus on strengthening democracy in Zimbabwe. (Watch the conference.)

President Robert Mugabe, a member of the Zimbabwe African Nation Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party who has ruled Zimbabwe for 33 years, is facing off against Morgan Tsvangirai from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party. In previous presidential elections in 2008, Tsvangirai won a plurality of first round votes but backed out of presidential run-off after ZANU-PF loyalists brutally attacked citizens and communities to suppress voting.

In addition to encouraging union members to vote and even to run for office, Moyo says the ZCTU is educating them on the issues important to their lives: affordable health care, quality education and good jobs. The union is well-placed to offer an alternative to the government’s failed economic policies. ZCTU recognized the need for a pro-poor economic model in 1991, the year the government began implementing an economic structural adjustment program without consultation with key stakeholders, including workers.

In 2003, the ZCTU’s economic office became an independent think tank, the progressive Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ). Today, it is the leading voice on socioeconomic rights and development. In 2011, LEDRIZ co-authored Beyond the Enclave: Towards a Pro-Poor and Inclusive Development Strategy for Zimbabwe. The lengthy study—based on detailed economic data and analysis—looks at the contradiction of how a resource-rich country like Zimbabwe can suffer from endemic poverty. Its authors propose development policies formulated with broad-based stakeholder participation.

When Beyond the Enclave was released nationally, representatives from both the ZANU-PF and the MDC parties attended the event. Moyo says that economic the programs put in place over the past three decades not only have not created jobs, “they have destroyed jobs.”  Yet while politicians now use popular phrases like “pro-poor,” says Moyo, they so far have only picked bits and pieces from Beyond the Enclave’s recommendations.

So one of ZCTU’s key post-election moves will continue to center on worker education. As part of its efforts to raise citizens’ awareness of their democratic rights, LEDRIZ in 2012 published a popular version of Beyond the Enclave designed for worker-based trainings. LEDRIZ recognizes that an educated workforce is essential for an engaged workforce, and that empowering and involving working people and the poor is fundamental to achieving progress in alleviating poverty. Through the training, LEDRIZ explores with workers how they should hold the government accountable for providing a return on their tax dollars by providing, at a minimum, clean water and sanitation, stable electricity, food security, basic health care, education, public transportation, housing and sound infrastructure. Workers learn to recognize the connection between democracy and good governance.

Politicians on all sides are “telling people how to live their lives rather than asking them how they can sustain themselves,” says Moyo. Asking the people “is the best way to do it.”

For more information, check out the new report, “LEDRIZ: Unions Create Democratic Space in Zimbabwe,” part of the Solidarity Center’s ongoing Catalysts for Change series. The series looks at where working people, their unions and civil society activists are advancing worker rights and greater equity in their societies, often under trying circumstances.

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