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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is digging in on his war against Hamas as Israeli strikes in central and in south Gaza intensified over the past few days.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

In a speech to the Knesset on Monday, he vowed to keep fighting until Israel achieves its stated goal of destroying Hamas. That despite some public pressure from the Biden administration to protect civilians in Gaza.

FADEL: Here to discuss all of this is NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: Hi. So, Tom, let's start with Netanyahu. He says he'll continue and even go deeper with this war. What's the U.S. saying?

BOWMAN: Well, President Biden spoke with Netanyahu over the weekend and said only they had a long talk. And Biden said he did not ask for a ceasefire. The U.S. does want Israel to curtail bombing and go to a more precise ground operation. That's just not happening, at least not yet. And just a day ago, some 70 to 80 civilians were killed in airstrikes in Gaza in a crowded neighborhood. And, of course, Leila, as you know, the death toll is more than 20,000 now, with a majority women and children. You know, I was talking with a retired senior U.S. officer with long experience in the Middle East about all this. And he told me Israel will listen to the U.S. and then do things its own way.

FADEL: Just staggering numbers there. What else do we know about what's happening on the ground for Palestinians who are trying to find safety?

BOWMAN: Well, a lot of displaced. Human Rights Watch says 85% of Gazans now are displaced, nearly half kind of near the border with Egypt. A senior administration official told reporters a month ago the U.S. did not want to see large numbers of Palestinians who were in northern Gaza - remember, forced south by Israeli forces - displaced once again. But that is happening to many thousands of Palestinians. Now, the Israelis are providing maps and information about safer places to go. But, Leila, it's online. And with communications blackouts, it's kind of difficult to make that happen. Now, the U.S. wants Israel to curtail bombing and go to a more precise ground operation. That's just not happening, at least not yet. And, of course, the death toll - again, as we said, it's more than 20,000.

FADEL: Yeah. All this as the U.N. put a report out saying half a million people are starving in Gaza, and the risk of famine is growing every day. But what about the concern about a larger regional war? The White House said last night that it conducted airstrikes on militants in Iraq. Help us understand the bigger context here.

BOWMAN: Well, the white House says three U.S. military personnel were wounded, one critically, in an attack by Kata'ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed backed group in Iraq. The U.S. responded with airstrikes. We're seeing these attacks from Iranian-backed groups that also back Hamas in the war against Israel. Houthi rebels in Yemen have been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea, about a dozen or more in the past two months. The U.S. has responded by creating a naval coalition to protect commercial ships in the Red Sea. It's a wait-and-see attitude by the shipping companies. Some are going around Africa as a way to reach Europe. But again, this coalition of naval ships has just begun.

FADEL: Now, right now, as we're talking about the possibility of a regional war, the fighting continues in Gaza. What do we know about any diplomatic efforts to try to stop it?

BOWMAN: Well, Egypt has proposed a plan to bring an end to the war by installing a new governing body in Gaza to replace Hamas. Reuters news agency is reporting Hamas has rejected the deal. The Egyptian plan calls for the release of all hostages and the freeing of more imprisoned Palestinians, along with exchange of bodies of Israelis and Palestinians killed during the war. Now, Qatar brokered the first cease-fire, as you might remember, with Hamas' political office in Doha. It's likely to be involved in any future deals, but we just don't know at this point.

FADEL: NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: India's foreign minister is in Moscow for a five-day visit that began yesterday.

KHALID: These two countries, Russia and India, have a friendly relationship that goes back decades and has only grown closer since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But India, of course, is also close to the United States. So how does it square this circle?

FADEL: To talk about this, we've got NPR's Diaa Hadid from her base in Mumbai. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So India's top diplomat is in Moscow. What's he doing there?

HADID: So India's foreign minister - he's known as S. Jaishankar - is likely going to talk about trade. India has been a huge customer of Russian oil since the invasion of Ukraine. And it's getting that oil cheaper because Western sanctions have kept other buyers away. But those sanctions have also complicated how India pays for that oil. Russia is also India's top arms supplier, and it has been for decades. The war in Ukraine may have complicated that, so that could be on the agenda, as well.

FADEL: Now, India has been getting closer to the U.S. and its allies in Asia as it tries to counter China's influence in the region, but it's not on the same page when it comes to Ukraine, right?

HADID: Right. It's not on the same page at all. And it's important to note that India has not condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, despite significant pressure to do so. And there's two reasons why. The first, as you mentioned, India has an old, friendly relationship with Russia. You might ask, how old? Consider then the tweet by the foreign minister, S. Jaishankar yesterday. He wrote, how it started and how it's going. And he posted a picture of a visiting card to the Red Square from 1962, when he went there with his father, alongside a picture of himself yesterday at the same place. So that's one reason.

The other is that India prides itself on its independent foreign policy, what it calls strategic autonomy. So Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is a political scientist at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. And she says the Indian foreign minister going to Russia is a way of signaling that autonomy, even as India moves closer to Western allies on issues surrounding China.

RAJESWARI PILLAI RAJAGOPALAN: Even as India has gotten closer to the United States, Japan, Australia to sort of balance China, India still does not want to be seen as going completely into one camp or the other.

FADEL: OK, so I'd guess that the U.S. also wants to have India on side when it comes to China. So will it even criticize this visit?

HADID: That's what analysts say. But there's also some understanding that India's position is also difficult because it has its own tensions with Beijing. And that's part of the reason why it's drawing closer to the U.S. and its allies. But it might need Russia's support, as well, if those tensions escalated. Michael Kugelman is the South Asia director of the Wilson Center.

MICHAEL KUGELMAN: India has not condemned the Russian invasion, but that doesn't mean that it supports the war. It doesn't support the war at all. The war makes Russia more dependent on China. And India doesn't want that because China is India's strategic competitor.

HADID: So India needs the U.S. It also needs Russia, both to counter what it sees as this threat from China.

FADEL: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Mumbai. Thank you so much for your time.

HADID: You're welcome, Leila.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) No bucks, no trucks. No bucks, no trucks. No bucks, no trucks.

FADEL: From autoworkers to actors, nurses to newspaper reporters, more than half a million workers went on strike this year. And many emerged with big wins. So is this a union comeback? NPR's Andrea Hsu is here to unpack all this. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Hi.

FADEL: So is it a comeback?

HSU: Well, it's hard to say exactly. You know, since the 1980s, there have really only been a few years when we saw unions asserting themselves like they did this year. Most recently, it was back in 2018 and 2019. But then it was government workers, teachers, you know, who walked off the job in a bunch of states. I talked with Johnnie Kallas about this. He runs Cornell's Labor Action Tracker. And he said what's notable about this year is that it's really been workers in the private sector at companies who have driven the surge.

JOHNNIE KALLAS: Which is important because that's where unions have been weakest. And it remains to be seen whether this really translates into more sustainable gains or an increasing unionization rate over time.

HSU: Because, Leila, right now, only 6% of private sector workers in the U.S. belong to unions.

FADEL: Well, that's a small share - 6%. Do unions seem to have the wind at their back? Could this be a turning point?

HSU: Well, I think it's really too soon to tell. I am closely watching what is happening with the UAW. You know, the union president, Shawn Fain - he has his sights set on Tesla and also all of these foreign automakers, like Nissan and Volkswagen, that have nonunion plants in the South that the UAW has tried to organize in the past and failed. But, you know, the union is coming off major wins at the bargaining table. And at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., Shawn Fain says already, they have had more than a thousand workers sign union cards. He says workers are being harassed for wearing union stickers and passing out union fliers. And he also added this.

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SHAWN FAIN: Volkswagen's even gone so far as to start each shift by having frontline supervisors hold quick, captive audience meetings where they read out anti-union talking points.

HSU: Now, this is exactly what happened with the newly formed unions at Amazon and Starbucks. Those companies have fought quite successfully to put out roadblocks.

FADEL: To put up roadblocks. So what does that mean for these fledgling unions at Amazon and Starbucks?

HSU: Well, they are pretty stalled at the moment. The Amazon labor union was finally certified in January this year, almost a year ago. But Amazon refuses to recognize the union. That's a legal mess that's ongoing. And at Starbucks, around 380 stores have now unionized. But not a single one has gotten a first contract because each side has accused the other of not bargaining in good faith. And getting a contract is really the whole point of having a union - to be able to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. I talked with Ian Meager (ph), a barista in Oregon whose store voted to unionize almost two years ago.

IAN MEAGER: I kind of knew that it wasn't going to be a quick fight. I wasn't going to be an easy fight. I would have preferred that Starbucks play ball.

HSU: But Meager says in a way, the union has already won something. Starbucks has actually granted nonunion stores some benefits that the union had pushed for, like credit card tipping and faster sick time accrual. These are things that workers now have in the vast majority of Starbucks stores, 90-some percent of them.

MEAGER: It's been a real win for the working class, you know, for the baristas of Starbucks on the whole.

HSU: The other week, Starbucks sent an email to the union saying it hopes the two sides resume contract talks in January and get to ratification.

FADEL: OK. so we'll stay tuned for more on that. NPR's Andrea Hsu. Thank you so much, Andrea.

HSU: You're welcome.

FADEL: A note here that Amazon is among NPR's financial supporters and pays to distribute some NPR content. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.