Violent clashes involving drivers at China’s largest food delivery platform Meituan have occurred in the past two weeks, highlighting drivers' persistent warnings of declining conditions and rising pressure at work.
On 20 July in Langfang, Hebei, just outside of Beijing, a fight broke out between a security guard and a Meituan driver when the guard attempted to fine the driver 100 yuan for incorrectly parking his vehicle. Other delivery drivers passing by stopped to intervene, and the fight quickly escalated. Nine delivery drivers were hospitalised, three of them with severe injuries.
On 27 July in the western city of Chengdu, Sichuan province, a Meituan driver clashed with security guards in a residential complex; security guards chased after him with a steel pipe for failing to sign in at the front gate. Following the conflict, more than 100 drivers in Meituan uniforms arrived on the scene to support their colleague. Police rushed to the scene and scuffles with drivers ensued. One driver and seven security guards were injured.
Chinese media reports chose to focus on indvidual misbehaviour, overlooking the underlying systemic problems in the booming delivery industry.
A Guangming Daily article did note that drivers are under great pressure to deliver as many packages as possible due to their commission-based pay system, but then went on to blame the problems of the food delivery industry, from traffic violations to the violent clashes with police, on the drivers themselves. The piece on the official news outlet even encouraged drivers to "think less about money and more about public safety". The Paper, a Shanghai-based publication, urged guards and drivers to “serve the people”, and repeated police calls to step up controls on franchise operators.
China’s food delivery industry has been growing at breakneck speed with Meituan seeing huge success in recent years, the company is now one of the world’s 10 largest start-ups, and receives over 13 million orders per day. Company success, as is often the case, has come at the expense of workers, who are neither passive victims: they staged several protests and strikes against stagnating working conditions, heavy workloads, and unfair treatment.
But delivery drivers still lack a voice which truly represents their interests.
While the violent clashes are tragic, they could have been avoided were it not for the absence of a mechanism to address the problems drivers have faced during the industry’s rapid growth. Without functioning trade unions to represent them at the table and bargain for the improvement of basic working conditions, the systemic issues which plague the sector will remain unaddressed, with violent clashes a constant threat to social stability.