The #mcmanusstan Debacle Shows Our CEOs Have Run Out of Ideas, And the People Know It!


A modern Utopia where the rights of workers are restored? The Twitter storm surrounding #mcmanusstan reveals how people are rejecting outdated free market rhetoric for a politics that isn’t run from the boardrooms of corporate Australia. Carl Rhodes and Peter Bloom explain.

When the Australian Financial Review published an article recently criticising left-wing populism, little did they know the popular storm they were going to ignite.

Columnist Michael Angwin trotted out an argument that once upon a time was accepted as common sense – CEOs from the big end of town should fight the union agenda in the name of competitiveness and productivity. Specifically, this was his way of issuing a cheap put down to ACTU boss Sally McManus.

If the CEOs don’t come to the rescue, Angwin lamented, Australia might as well be renamed McManusstan; a mythical land plagued by good working conditions and strengthened employee rights.

Those very things, according to him, have no place in an economy driven by global competition. The people of Australia, though, seemed to think otherwise and let their voices be digitally heard!


Is Mcmanusstan the Place to Be?

This could have just been another throwaway rant hidden on the inside pages of the Fin. But no, readers turned to Twitter to let it be known that this type of trickle down anti-worker thinking no longer had a place in Australia.

#mcmanusstan was soon trending with pundits taking to social media to sing the praises of this mythical land of equality, fairness, decent wages, and social cohesion.

It is easy for those at the top to dismiss this as mere populism. What it actually indicates is that the free market is no longer accepted as king. Its self-proclaimed divine right to power and privilege is being increasingly challenged at a fundamental level.

Former US Presidential Democratic nominee, Bernie Sanders. (IMAGE: Phil Roeder, Flickr)
Former US Presidential Democratic nominee, Bernie Sanders. (IMAGE: Phil Roeder, Flickr)

Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have changed the political landscape, making it no longer taboo to talk of socialism. Now McManus is doing the same in Australia.

Since becoming the ACTU secretary in March she has started to shake up Australian politics on a national level, but the conservative right don’t seem to have caught up yet. Something is happening here and they don’t know what it is!


CEOs Won’t Save Us

Neoliberal politics has ruled the roost for so long – in both the Labor and Liberal parties – that when an unapologetic progressive voice like Sally McManus’ rises up, the ruling elite from the Right barely seemed worried. They are politically complacent and ideologically bereft of ideas.

The best that Angwin could muster was that the CEOs of the land should get together in a “search for ideas” to compete with McManus’s clearly articulated and compelling agenda.

New leader of the ACTU, Sally McManus, pictured on ABC's 7:30.
New leader of the ACTU, Sally McManus, pictured on ABC’s 7:30.

Really? We’ve already got former business executives in power both here and in the US. Neither Turnbull nor Trump have come close to proving that business experience is much use in getting things done in politics.

Belief in the myth that executives can somehow use their business acumen to improve society for all still remains strong, though. It is tragic reflection of a politics that has been held ransom by large corporations for far too long.

#mcmanusstan is a sign that Australians are quickly realising that CEOs can’t save them.


CEOs Have Nothing Left But Fear

This turn of events is especially ironic, as it is supposedly these business titans that are renowned for their visionary strategies. It is the Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburgs that are going to change the world with their innovative ideas and entrepreneurial wisdom; at least that’s how the story goes.

But in practice, both in business and politics, these leaders are increasingly being exposed as emperors with no clothes.

Don’t forget that that this is a year where cuts to penalty rates have seen the pay packets of many working Australians shrink, meanwhile corporate profits have been surging, and bloated CEO salaries have sparked public outcry.

In a follow up article in The Spectator, Tim Wilms came out fighting against the horrors that would fall upon us in the workers’ paradise of McManusstan. Nothing less than “famine, terror and primitive life” would result if the balance tipped so that working Australian’s got a fairer deal.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: (Dept. of Defense photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Flickr)
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: (Dept. of Defense photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Flickr)

This is a puny counter-argument to a call for progressive reforms introduced in the name of justice and equality. It’s just an attempt at mud-slinging from a political position that has lost any genuine moral or practical ground on which to stand.

Empty-headed threats about a red monster from McManusstan coming to squash economic growth are a lame stand-in for a reasoned political position.


A Return to Democracy?

In something akin to the Stockholm syndrome, is it right that we put our trust in business leaders to bring in a new era of worker-management trust and cooperation?

What this whole Mcmanusstan affair has shown is that the neoliberal status quo that has for so long dominated Australian political and economic affairs is looking old, tired and worn out.

Its bell-ringers can’t even come up with a defence that doesn’t rely on hackneyed platitudes and make-believe phobias popularized in the 1950s.

The good news is that there are signs of a real desire to change, and for Australia to refocus its attention on the promise of democratic ideals of equality, solidarity, hospitality, justice and shared prosperity.

For the first time in at least a generation, it is the Left that has the ideas and the Right on the retreat.

McManusstan might just create an Australia that works for all Australians. And just as importantly, Australians are no longer scared to embrace it.

Professor Carl Rhodes & Dr Peter Bloom

Professor Carl Rhodes is Professor of Organization Studies at The University of Technology, Sydney. Working in the disciplines organisation studies, critical management studies, and business ethics, his current research investigates the ethics and politics of contemporary business and the attendant implications for society. This work endeavours to contribute to the rigorous and critical questioning and reformulation of what the purpose of business and corporations in the context of democracy. Dr Peter Bloom is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University. His primary research interests include ideology, subjectivity and power, specifically as they relate to broader discourses and everyday practices of capitalism and democracy.