02:21 - Source: CNN
Madrid austerity protests

Story highlights

A victim leader and union leaders attend a memorial marking the 2004 bombing anniversary

Some criticize unions for holding nationwide protests over labor reforms on the same day

The protest "absolutely does not bother us," says Pilar Manjon, whose son was killed in attacks

Some ceremonies are moved to Monday because of the union demonstrations

Madrid, Spain CNN  — 

Union protesters marched across Spain Sunday as mourners marked the eighth anniversary of the Madrid train bombings.

The timing of the demonstrations prompted criticism from some conservative leaders, who accused Spain’s two main unions of disrespecting victims of the 2004 attacks.

But Pilar Manjon, a leader of the largest victims association, said she did not consider the marches disrespectful.

“They cannot use us to batter the unions, to dismiss them or to say they have no respect for the victims. … (The protest) absolutely does not bother us,” she told Spanish radio network SER.

In response to criticisms, the unions have countered that some conservatives have shown a lack of respect for the victims – which included many workers and students killed or maimed in the attacks – by fomenting unfounded conspiracy theories about the bombings.

Manjon, whose son was among the 191 people killed in the 2004 attacks, attended a memorial with union leaders at Madrid’s Atocha train station.

Nearby, at a grove of trees planted in honor of the victims in the Retiro Park, the Association of Victims of Terrorism held a memorial. Madrid’s mayor and Spain’s justice minister attended the ceremony, Spanish media reported.

Spanish courts have convicted 14 Islamic militants for their roles in the 2004 bombings on morning rush-hour commuter trains, which injured more than 1,800 people. Four Spaniards were convicted for trafficking in explosives used in the attacks.

Additionally, seven other prime Islamic suspects in the attacks blew themselves up three weeks after the train bombings as police closed in on their hideout in a Madrid suburb. That explosion also killed a police officer and wounded various others.

Sunday’s union protests prompted Madrid’s regional government and Madrid’s city hall, both governed by conservative administrations, to delay their annual observances until Monday. They will include a memorial ceremony in the Puerta del Sol, followed by a memorial in the monument to the victims at Atocha station.

Spain’s anniversary observances in recent years have been subdued, without the king or prime minister attending, and without speeches or music. Authorities have said that’s in keeping with the wishes of the victims associations, who want the nation to remember, but without undue fanfare.

But crowds of protesters sang, chanted and waved banners as they packed streets in Madrid, Seville, Bilbao and other cities Sunday.

Spain’s two main unions – the Socialist-leaning General Workers Union (UGT) and the Communist-leaning Workers Commissions (CCOO) – said they scheduled the demonstrations on the symbolic day to protest against the new conservative government’s labor reforms, which unions say make it cheaper and easier to fire workers.

“We’re here because this government doesn’t offer any solutions. They’re trying to take advantage of the crisis to cut back labor and social rights. We must oppose them democratically,” said Candido Mendez, leader of the UGT.

Spain’s parliament approved the labor reforms last month. Government officials have argued that the measures will reduce unemployment and give workers more rights, such as an annual 20-hour paid leave for training.

But unions have sharply criticized the reforms.

Sunday’s demonstrations follow union protests last month which drew large crowds nationwide. On Friday, the unions announced a general strike for March 29.

Protester Rafael Serrano Rodriguez carried a poster showing scissors as he walked through Madrid Sunday, saying he opposed government pension cutbacks.

Jose Maria Rey Gayo, a civil servant, said the government’s labor market reforms were the most serious attack on worker rights since Spain’s return to democracy 37 years ago.

Spain’s jobless rate is nearly 23% overall, and nearly 50% for youth. Nearly 5.3 million Spaniards are out of work and the government has announced deep austerity cuts.