THE Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) was intent on stepping up its game, promising a "mindset" change as it pushed ahead with its policies instead of shouting from the sidelines without ever getting anywhere, its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, said yesterday.

The federation is at a crossroads as it heads toward its national congress in September.

Cosatu, among those credited with President Jacob Zuma's rise to the helm of the ANC, grew restless soon after he rose to power as it found its interests were not advancing.

That was after the federation had made clear it had not handed the leadership elected in Polokwane a blank cheque.

Speaking at a Cosatu education summit in Benoni yesterday, Mr Vavi promised a "new phase of struggle" requiring a "mindset change" for the federation to have a real effect on the working class and the poor.

"Without that mindset change we just continue to engage each other without making any progress in terms of improving the lives and the working conditions of our members. We are arguing that Cosatu at every level must rediscover its very purpose of existence if it wants to make a real impact," he said.

"Already there is a growing cynicism out there that we are just about summits, conferences, workshops, drafting documents, flights and nice stays in fancy hotels, where we are repeating ourselves over and over again

"But nothing we are saying will ever be done," he said and called for a change of the federation's image.

He said the problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality were clear, yet nothing changed.

"We must appreciate that Rome is burning outside there and inaction in the face of the crisis we are facing is counter-revolutionary. Our responsibility as a revolutionary and transformative union can't be just that we are going to be lamenting about the state of affairs," he said.

Cosatu had to take action to improve its situation.

Mr Vavi warned of the dangers of disunity and factionalism as the federation pushed its mandate.

He referred to the Limpopo government's failure to deliver textbooks in the province for the past six months - calling for those responsible to be "shown the door". But he also questioned the federation itself for failing to act.

"We were there, we marched to the premier to say this premier should be removed and others thought we were just pursuing a factional thing. Where are we now?

"It is the divisions, comrades, and that's why we are calling for a mindset change. It's the divisions that protect those that should not be in their positions forever.

"So when we are factionalised, you can stay in your position forever because you just say, I can't be touched because I'm in the opposite of the camp of that one, and the children suffer in the meantime."

The Limpopo government was placed under administration at the end of last year, but Mr Zuma's detractors accused him of pursuing a factional agenda in doing so, as its premier, Cassel Mathale, was aligned to expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.

Mr Malema is calling for Mr Zuma's removal as party president.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga - at the centre of the Limpopo textbook fray - also addressed Cosatu's education conference, but journalists were asked to leave during her talk.

One delegate added to Mr Vavi's call for those responsible for the textbook saga to be removed, saying, "Including the minister."

Mr Vavi urged Cosatu members to take a stand against factionalism at the federation's conference in September.

"A divided organisation at war with itself can never lead its members to address the challenges; unity and a mindset change is what we need," he said.

Mr Vavi said many of the resolutions passed at the ANC's Polokwane conference were "idling on paper" and they were largely absent from government budgets and were never taken forward.

Cosatu was conducting an audit of all policy decisions taken to determine what was taken forward and what needed to be acted upon.

"We need to make a proper assessment as to where we are at the policy front as an organisation, so that we can say these things are already policy, these things are taken forward and these things have not been taken forward.

"So that when we go to Mangaung in December we can say . please don't repeat yourselves," he said.

He warned that Cosatu would begin bleeding membership if it failed to "go back to the basics".

"We have no hold over workers. We think that now we can rest on our laurels and increasingly become part of the new ruling elite without seeking the change situation of their families... if we are not careful and if we cannot change the mindset, we will suffer the same fate of the Afrikaner unions who last striked in 1922."

marriann@bdfm.co.za