Why is France's pension reform bill so unpopular?

STORY: French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to reform the country’s creaking pension system has ignited a political firestorm.

People from all walks of life have taken to the streets to protest against it...

...in what's become the biggest challenge to Macron's presidency - since the yellow vest movement.

But why is it so unpopular?

Despite widespread public opposition, Macron's government used a special procedure to push the bill through to the National Assembly without a vote.

Most notably - it'll push retirement age back by two years...

...and the French are deeply attached to keeping their retirement age of 62 - one of the lowest in OECD countries.

The government says the move is vital to avoid the collapse of the country's pension system -

and ensure younger generations won't carry the burden of financing the "baby boomer" generation.

(Nurse) "Do you want 64-year-old nurses to care for you in the hospital, Mr. Macron?"

(Macron) "What I want is to prepare the end of people's careers. What you are touching upon, which is true, is that people have to work a bit longer because they start working a bit later."

The reform could yield about $19 billion dollars in pension contributions to plug the government's funding gap.

France has some of the lowest employment rates among 60-64 year-olds at 33%, compared to its neighbors.

In Germany, that rate is 61%, and in Sweden it’s 69%.

But the left-wing opposition says that gap could be filled by other means, like taxing the rich and companies more.

Opinion polls show a vast majority of voters and trade unions oppose the reforms.

More than a million people marched through the streets of Paris in mid-January to denounce the plans.

Several nationwide protests have taken place since -

along with a wave of strikes halting trains, blocking refineries and curbing power generation.

“People are fed up. People are exhausted. People see around them that there are plenty of colleagues who don't even make it to the current legal retirement age, so how can we expect them to make it to 64?”

While they have been largely peaceful, some have turned violent.

After the introduction of the bill in the French National Assembly, protesters set fire in the streets of Paris.

Police used tear gas to disperse crowds, and over 300 people were arrested.

Macron chose to use special constitutional powers instead of risking lawmakers rejecting the reform.

But by doing so, he has given ammunition to the opposition and union leaders who cast the reform as undemocratic.

“It’s not a victory, but first, it’s a defeat for the government.”

He has bet his political future on this bill.

Failure to reform pensions would tarnish the rest of his second and final term -

and stop his reformist zeal dead in its tracks, according to government sources.

But it's unclear what he can do now to quell anger on the streets.