Eight years ago on March 11 2004, terrorists killed 191 people by using bombs on commuter trains heading in to Madrid. Today's memorial services, however, have been disrupted by nationwide union protests.
Some people, especially leaders amongst the conservative party, felt the timing of the union protests was disrespectful to those who died in the bombings and their families. However, Pilar Manjon, the leader of one of the biggest victims support organisation has a different opinion. She told Spanish radio station SER:
"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"
In some cities, the memorial services have been moved to Monday so as to avoid clashing with the nationwide demonstrations. The two major unions, the UGT and the CCOO, said they deliberately chose the symbolic day for the demonstrations to protest against the conservative government's new draconian work reforms.
On the day of the bombings, the then conservative government tried to blame the disaster on Spanish terror group, ETA. It soon became clear that in fact Al Quaida was behind the attacks with 14 Islamic militants so far convicted of being involved. Other terrorists died as they set of a suicide bomb as police closed in on the flat in which they were hiding. The prevarication by the government over the bombings is believed to have caused them the loss of the elections that followed very shortly after, bringing in the Socialist government which in its turn lost power in elections in October 2011.
The demonstrations on March 11 took place in 60 cities across Spain with Madrid as the main focal point. This is planned as a warm up to a general strike that has been called for March 29. Leader of the CCOO union, Ignacio Fernández Toxo, speaking at the demonstration said :
“Mr Rajoy, you have the month of March to start up a dialogue and to present a reasonable budget, and the unions will be there."
Prime Minister Rajoy's latest austerity measures include plans which will make it much easier and cheaper for companies to fire employees as well as bringing in much more part time or short term contract work. A report in El Pais, however, says that according to a survey 67% of Spaniards feel that a general strike will serve no purpose in getting the government to change it's planned work reforms.
Over five million Spaniards are now unemployed, 23% of the population, with the unemployment rate rising to 1 in 2 amongst young people.