During a press conference tonight the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) announced that it will be going on strike, its first action of the sort in 25 years.

Why are these 29,000 teachers and school workers going on strike in the nation’s third-largest public school district?

Because they want what all workers want: fair pay and decent working conditions. They also want what all teachers want — to serve their students to their best of their abilities.

Here’s a few things you need to know about the strike, and why the CTU is right and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who has failed to fairly bargain with the union — is wrong:

  • Powerful Outside Interests Worked With Rahm To Cripple CTU’s Ability To Strike (They Failed): Last year, outside education privatization groups like Stand for Children worked with the city council and mayor to raise the strike threshold limit to 75 percent — meaning that 3/4 of teachers had to vote to strike. Jonah Edelman, who works for the group, bragged during the Aspen Ideas Festival that they had essentially eliminated teachers’ ability to strike. But in June, nearly 90 percent of CTU members voted to authorize a strike, easily surpassing the barrier that the city and education privatization groups had placed on them. But outside groups haven’t stopped taking aim at union rights. They’ve even paid protesters to demonstrate against CTU.
  • Rahm Refuses To Pay Teachers What They Were Promised: Being a teacher takes hard work, and it’s one of the most poorly-paid professions relative to the work load. The leadership of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had agreed to offer teachers a four percent raise last year, but Mayor Emanuel canceled this agreement. The district has refused to address this raise in negotiations. While gutting teachers’ pay increases, CPS is calling for longer school days. Would you want to work more hours without being fairly compensated for it?
  • The City Won’t Agree To Limit The Number Of Kids In Classrooms In The Contract: Over-crowded classrooms are bad for students, teachers, and parents. That’s why 32 states have limits on classroom size. Illinois does not. CTU wants to see limits on class sizes in its contract (there are limits in CPS guidelines, but not in the teachers’ contract) but the city refuses to discuss it. CTU analysis shows that Chicago class sizes for kindergarten and first grade are larger than 95 percent of school districts in the state.
  • Rahm Is Intent On Shifting Funds To Untested And Unproven Charter Schools: Rahm has been laying the groundwork for a rapid expansion of charter schools, and wants to create nearly 250 more within five to ten years (this would amount to half the system). This massive diversion of funds from the public system is not based on the facts of what actually works for students. The most comprehensive study of charter schools in the United States found that most deliver results similar to those of public schools. Not surprisingly, Chicago’s charter schools are largely devoid of unions and the benefits they provide for students and teachers alike. Charter school teachers tend to earn 8 percent less than normal public school teachers — which makes them an attractive tool for austerity-prone conservatives. CTU wants a more fair distribution of funds.

If you’re a bold progressive who wants to side with these teachers who are fighting for their students and communities, here’s a few ways to do it:

  • Contribute to the CTU Solidarity Fund: The CTU has set up a Solidarity Fund to allow the union to do educational outreach and activism. Click here to donate to it.
  • Spread The Word On Social Media: Use the hashtags #FairContractNow and #CTUStrike to spread the word about the strike. Use the social media buttons on this post (Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit) to explain to your friends and family about why it’s important to stand with Chicago’s teachers. A number of Twitter users have already changed their Twitpics to the logo of the Chicago Teachers Union. Doing so on Twitter or Facebook will help spread the word.
  • Join The Fight With The PCCC:  Sign up to stay in the loop with our bold progressive activism at the top of this page.

We’ll keep you updated on the CTU strike and everything you can do to help the city’s teachers.

UPDATE: The Nation’s Dave Zirin has another way to help: order a pizza for striking teachers. You can call “Gus or Daisy at Primo’s Pizza at (312) 243-1052.”

UPDATE II: Read the story of why one teacher is striking here.