"U Pay Your Tax 2": U2 Glastonbury Tax Protest Activists Condemn 'Heavy-Handed' Security
ArtUncut, the direct action group, attacks decision to silence peaceful attempt to highlight Irish band's offshore affairs
Activists seeking to return the Glastonbury festival to its political roots expressed outrage after a peaceful protest against the tax status of headline act U2 was disbanded with "totally unnecessary" violence by security staff.
Members of Art Uncut, an offshoot of the larger direct action group UK Uncut, complained that 10 guards had used "heavy-handed" tactics on Friday night in their rush to remove a 20ft (6m) inflatable banner emblazoned with the legend "U pay your tax 2".
One protester, Claudia Graham, 23, had her finger broken during the scuffle. She said: "It was totally over the top, they were really quite violent. They had one guy round the neck. It was totally unnecessary. You should have the right to put up whatever banner you like."
Graham added: "We linked arms to create a barrier. I was hanging on to a guy next to me, but the security guards burst through us and my finger was bent to the side. It was really, really painful. It really hurt."
The Irish band, who headlined the Pyramid stage on Friday night, has been criticised for moving its commercial operations to the Netherlands, where royalties on music incur virtually no tax. About 30 activists had gathered in front of the stage hours before U2 began performing.
When Bono and his bandmates took to the arena, Art Uncut's protesters raised their inflated banner, but it was swiftly deflated and confiscated.
Art Uncut issued a statement on its blog questioning the move. "If they can get away with it, the wealthy establishment tend to hire heavies to crush dissent," it read. "We wanted a dialogue with U2, on an issue that is crucial for international development.
"Instead we got heavy-handed security tactics; our highly visible expression of conscience was pulled down after just a few minutes – where are the festival's radical roots now, we ask?"
Activist Steve Taylor, who was part of the protest when it was broken up, said the decision to take down the banner was surprising as festival organisers had given their approval. "We had contact with people from the festival earlier in the day, and had told them the protest wouldn't disrupt the set. They said it was fine," he said.
But the reality proved rather different. "They came in as a pack," Taylor added.
A festival spokesman said: "There was an agreement for them to have their banner inflated and for it to be seen as long as it wouldn't obstruct the audience view of the performance. We requested them to take it down after two songs and security deflated the balloon: there was no instruction of heavy-handedness or restriction."
Organisers were returning the inflatable banner to Art Uncut yesterday, the spokesman said, along with "an invitation to display it at their campsite for the remainder of the Festival".
Art Uncut says that while Bono is known for his campaigning work in Africa and elsewhere, U2's decision to move its operating company, U2 Ltd, to the Netherlands is depriving Ireland of tax revenues at a time when money is desperately needed. However the protesters insisted that the Glastonbury protest "is not just about having a dig at Bono", arguing that their action was "crucial to get people thinking about the ethics of taxation, and the relationship between tax and development".
To this end, Art Uncut was planning to hold a separate "Bono pay up!" protest in Kentish Town, north London. Maurice Glasman, the Blue Labour political theorist, was to speak alongside representatives of Christian Aid and Tax Justice Network.
Bono has always rejected criticism, telling the Irish Times in 2009: "We pay millions and millions of dollars in tax. The thing that stung us was the accusation of hypocrisy for my work as an activist."
Some 170,000 people have descended on Worthy Farm for the three-day festival, which has been dominated so far by large amounts of mud and rain. Yesterday was dry, however, with today's sign-off – expected to be marked by soaring temperatures.
Claudia Graham, who had her broken finger in a sling yesterday, was adamant she would not leave the festival despite the incident. "It didn't cross my mind," she said.